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Arkansas Highway System

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Arkansas Highway System

I-40 shieldUS 62 shieldAR 7 marker
Highway markers for Interstate 40, US Highway 62 and AR 7
A map of highways in the state of Arkansas
System information
Formed: 1924
Length: 16,442.90 mi[1] (26,462.28 km)
Highway names
Interstates: Interstate nn (I-nn)
US Routes: US Route n (US nn)
State: Highway nn
System links

The Arkansas Highway System is made up of all the highways designated as Interstates, U.S. Highways and State Highways in the US state of Arkansas. The system is maintained by the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD). The system contains 16,442.90 miles (26,462.28 km) of Interstates, U.S. Routes, state highways, and bannered routes. The shortest members are unsigned state highways Arkansas Highway 806 and Arkansas Highway 885, both 0.09 miles (0.14 km) in length. The longest route is U.S. Route 67, which runs 296.95 miles (477.89 km) from Texarkana to the Missouri Bootheel.


Early beginnings, the "Dollarway"

Travel in Arkansas has come from very humble beginnings. In the late nineteenth century, travelers would follow dirt paths riddled with potholes, and ruts. Bicycles would frequently stick in mud puddles. Trains never became popular in Arkansas, and instead travelers would use horse and buggy to get around the rural parts of state, and bicycles within cities.[2] Across the nation, many cyclists began demanding better roads to use for travel, and these road enthusiasts formed groups to advance their cause. A group of Arkansas cyclists held a good roads convention in Little Rock just before the turn of the century. Arkansas automobile salesmen quickly picked up on the notion that better roads would help their business as well, and became the driving force behind the Arkansas good roads movement.[3] The enterprising salesmen greatly increased the movement's breadth by expanding their scope outside of city streets to farm to market routes, a move that enticed farmers to support the cause. The combination of money from Little Rock salesmen and the large number of farmers in the state made the good roads movement a formidable alliance.[4] At this time, the roads were maintained by a state law that mandated all healthy men of middle age contribute five days of road work (or a monetary equivalent) annually.

Another convention in 1907 formed road districts, but this did not help the situation either. Although the need for improvement was obvious, the citizens had trouble finding funding for their goals.[5] In December 1913, Arkansas formed the "Dollarway", which was the name of a concrete road with bituminous surface topping. It was opened near Pine Bluff.[6] By 1914, a segment of 23 miles (37 km) was opened, the longest paved stretch in the United States. Today, the route is mostly covered by Arkansas Highway 365, although some original concrete segments are still visible, and the Dollarway Road portion has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[7]

Arkansas' "district approach" dooms hopes of unity

Arkansas first numbered state highway plan came in 1926.

Now that Arkansas had discovered a durable paving system, concrete topped with bitumen of "Dollarway pavement", they could replace the often-broken [8] The Federal Aid Act of 1921 allowed for funds to be allocated for a state highway system, as long as a central highway authority was in charge of the funds, which was not the case in Arkansas at the time. The Arkansas legislature was slow to create an authority, opting instead to stay with the district approach, which cost the state millions of dollars in funds. District leaders were caught charging exorbitant taxes for road projects, and especially where districts overlapped, bankrupting farmers.[9] The federal government decided to withhold money from states without a unified highway authority. When the Arkansas Legislature again tried to create one, the local judges (usually profiting from the exorbitant district fees) blocked the legislation. Upon withdrawal of federal money in 1923, Governor Thomas McRae called a special session of the Arkansas General Assembly to solve the problem. During this time, many motor inns, such as the Tall Pines Motor Inn in Carroll County, Arkansas or the Crystal River Tourist Camp became favored by motorists over roadside camping.[10]

Arkansas creates the State Highway Commission, gains federal funding

1924 designation meaning
A1-A9 Primary federal aid roads
B1-B43 Secondary federal aid roads
C1-C46 Connecting state roads
1926 map of the U.S. routes in Arkansas.

The Harrelson Road Law allowed the State Highway Commission to be formed. The state highway system was first created on October 10, 1923 by the newly formed Commission.[11] The group traced all roads designated as "county roads" onto an official map, which became the official State Highway System of Arkansas on December 31, 1924.[12] This map was kept in Little Rock as the official log of routes. The U.S. Route system came to Arkansas in 1926, and Arkansas gave its state highways numbers to match the national trend of numbered routes. This numbering remains largely intact today.

The Harrelson Road Law also eased the tax burdens of farmers significantly. Property owners wouldn't be fully relieved of financial responsibility until the Martineau Road Law of 1927, when the State of Arkansas assumed all road debt. After assuming this debt, the state added many taxes to the road users instead of the property owners. The State Road Patrol was established in 1929 to police the roads.[13] The State Highway Commission would redesignate Arkansas highways in 1929, including an additional 1,812 miles (2,916 km). The situation would worsen with the Great Depression, when Arkansas was forced to default on many highway loans. The federal Defense Highway Act of 1941 ordered construction funds be used only on important defense highways, but Arkansas' poorly maintained roads needed funding statewide. Governor Sidney Sanders McMath's administration passed a measure where bonds were used to raise maintenance funds. Although the bond measure resulted in lots of much-needed road help, the Highway Department had become corrupt with cronyism during this time. An act passed in 1952 detached the Highway Department from the governor's office and made it autonomous.[14]

Interstate Highway system comes to Arkansas

State Highway System Mileages
As of December 31


Year mi km
1923 6,718.55 10,812.46
1925 8,345.50 13,430.78
1930 8,809.50 14,177.52
1935 8,927.41 14,367.27
1940 9,301.20 14,968.83
1945 9,753.08 15,696.06
1950 9,716.13 15,636.60
1955 10,037.69 16,154.10
1960 11,148.85 17,942.33
1965 13,294.72 21,395.78
1970 14,612.37 23,516.33
1975 15,821.32 25,461.95
1980 16,090.88 25,895.76
1985 16,117.47 25,938.55
1990 16,203.04 26,076.27
1995 16,254.61 26,159.26
2000 16,366.77 26,339.76
2010 16,416.18 26,419.28
2012 16,397.79 26,389.68

|} The Arkansas Senate requested a feasibility study for designating all roads in the state (except those within municipal areas) as state highways in 1955.[11] If feasible, Arkansas would have likely adopted a system similar to Missouri, which maintains a system of supplemental routes in addition to state highways. Arkansas considered the systems of Delaware, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, and Mississippi. The first four states listed previously were the only states to have comprehensive state highway plans at the time. Arkansas decided not to begin a comprehensive program, and instead discovered that thousands of miles should no longer even receive county funding due to heavy population losses.[11] Chief engineer of the Arkansas Highway Department Alfred Johnson was one of the main proponents of the Interstate System, and construction of interstate highways in Arkansas actually began before the system became official in 1956. The state's original five interstates, Interstate 30, Interstate 40, Interstate 55, Interstate 430, and Interstate 540 still exist in large part today.[21] Arkansas had returned to the forefront of the highway world in 1962 because of the interstate system, just as the Dollarway had made Arkansas a leader decades earlier.[21] 1957 brought the Milam Road Act, which created (at minimum) eleven addition miles of state highways in each of Arkansas' 75 counties.


Arkansas still suffers from the impact of the districts. Despite the creation of a highway department and numerous attempts to keep politics away from road funding, the system is still flawed. This is due partly to the nature of Arkansas - citizens prefer to live in many very small communities rather than in small towns (especially in delta region and South Arkansas). This creates more need for connecting highways between these communities. Another cause of inefficiency is the use of Commissioners that represent geographical regions. The regions have not been reapportioned, and this causes the growing Northwest Arkansas region to be treated the same as the shrinking East Arkansas area.[22] Arkansas' highway system was consistently ranked one of America's worst until the AHTD launched a $575 million program in 1999. The project was innovative in its funding as well, raising the diesel fuel tax by four cents and matching federal dollars with state dollars to rehab over 350 miles (560 km) of Interstate highway in 54 separate projects.[23]

The state is in various stages of adding more Interstate highways within its borders. Interstate 555 will serve as a spur to Jonesboro from Interstate 55 upon completion of an access road. Arkansas is also working to bring Interstate 49 along its western edge, eventually connecting Kansas City and New Orleans. This route is being constructed as Arkansas Highway 549 temporarily. The southeast portion of the state is seeing an extension of Interstate 530, which will eventually connect Little Rock to Interstate 69 in Arkansas.

Routes and sections

Although U.S. Route 62 runs across the entire state of Arkansas, the first segment terminates after 24.65 miles (39.67 km). This segment runs east from the Oklahoma state line until its junction with I-49 (overpass seen in background) in Fayetteville.

Highways in Arkansas do not commonly form concurrencies with other state highways, they instead exist in many officially designated "sections".[1] These sections are not apparent to the traveler except on mile markers. Because roads often stop and begin elsewhere, it appears that highways repeat themselves in multiple locations, the most recurring being Highway 74. All highways follow this convention in AHTD bookkeeping, including Interstates and U.S. Routes.[1] A route remains a single segment until it meets a route of greater importance, or often a county line. This is the procedure for all highways in Arkansas, unless an officially designated "exception" occurs, which means a concurrency does form. These occur on mile markers and on bridge designation signs, however, mile markers are uncommon in Arkansas, and bridge markers are also frequently missing. Sectioning is used as the rule throughout the state, unless an officially designated "exception" occurs.[1] These exceptions are not common and are the only instances of concurrencies in the State of Arkansas.

State highways in Arkansas are not marked with "Begin" or "End" banners, which can compound the problem. The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department does provide by-county Route and Section Maps which show the section number and mileage per section.


Standard highway signs used in Arkansas
Shield type 1 digit 2 digits 3 digits
Interstate none
U.S. route
U.S. bannered route
State highway (with a "1")
State highway (standard)
State highway bannered
County highway varies
Two different AR 265 route markers. Both are located in Washington County. The left sign was posted by an independent sign contractor, and the right sign was posted by the AHTD. Note the change in the southeast border of the state, and also the angular nature of the Missouri Bootheel.
This sign on I-40 in Conway shows two different outlines of the State of Arkansas.

Two-digit U.S. and Arkansas highways are marked with a 24-by-24-inch (61 cm × 61 cm) black sign with black numbers contained within a white outline of Arkansas, with three-digit shields using a 24-by-36-inch (61 cm × 91 cm) area. One-digit routes use MUTCD Series D, two-digit routes use MUTCD Series C, and three-digit routes use MUTCD Series B font. The exception is if a three-digit shield includes a "1", such as "100" or "314", in which case Series C is used. Arkansas does not have any four-digit highways.

The outline of the state on state highway markers varies across the state based on what agency posts the shields. The Arkansas state outline is more realistic on the one- and two-digit shields, because on three digit shields the state is stretched to fit the third number. Major changes usually involve Arkansas's eastern border along the Mississippi River and the Missouri Bootheel. Although the Bootheel actually cuts into the state forming an acute angle, some shields represent the Bootheel as a square intrusion into the state. The state line is indeterminate along the Mississippi River, and different variants have different levels of accuracy along the eastern border.[24]

Special Arkansas highway shields for AR 980 and AR 917.

For business routes and spurs, Arkansas uses the standard state highway shields with a small "B" for a business routes or a "S" for spur. The letter is raised up in an almost-exponential format. Single-digit bannered routes are printed on 24-by-24-inch (61 cm × 61 cm) shields, with two- and three-digit routes using the 24-by-36-inch (61 cm × 91 cm) dimensions. Some routes have directional components, and the N, E, S, or W are signed in the same manner. The state of Arkansas has some special shields, including an airplane-themed shield for Arkansas Highway 980, which is the designation for all state-maintained airport access roads. Another special shield is Highway 917, which is funded by marine fuel taxes.

On two-digit, non-freeway U.S. routes, Arkansas uses the 1961 standard U.S. Route shield; the 1971 standard shield is used on freeways, three-digit U.S. routes and bannered U.S. routes. Bannered U.S. routes include a "B" for business routes or a "S" denoting a spur route. This in not standard MUTCD practice.

Interstate Highways in Arkansas are signed with the state's name on every shield, with two-digit shields being 36 by 36 inches (91 cm × 91 cm), while three-digit shields are 36-by-42-inch (91 cm × 107 cm), and 24 by 24 inches (61 cm × 61 cm) and 25 by 30 inches (64 cm × 76 cm), respectively, on intersecting roads. In the field, however, signs posted by municipalities sometimes lack the "Arkansas" banner and often use non-standard numbering font. Arkansas does not have any bannered Interstate routes.

Historic shields

Left: Arkansas highway shield created in 1926.
Right: Shield that replaced the "STATE ROUTE" shields circa 1950. The present-day shields replaced this style in 1971.

Arkansas first established a state-wide state highway system in 1924. This system labeled its routes in a "letter-number number" system such as A-11. The roads were all designated as "State Road l-nn" prior to the creation of the U.S. Numbered Highway System. Upon creation of the Harrelson Road Law, the US Route system came to Arkansas and the system was renumbered. This system has generally remained in place, with the major addition of the Interstate Highway System in 1965. The original system had just over 100 routes, mostly dirt paths that became unpassable after rain. Arkansas began using the same pavement techniques used for Dollarway Road, which was the longest continuous concrete pavement in the United States when completed in 1913.

These routes were signed with white cut-out shapes of Arkansas, which said "State Road" in addition to the route number. In the 1950s, the Araknsas Highway Department removed the "State Road" and instead printed "ARKANSAS" on top of the shields, with a line underneath the state name. The shields were changed to the current format circa 1971.

Highway systems

Although routes are sometimes dually signed (I-49 and US 71 in Northwest Arkansas for example) due to Arkansas' use of concurrencies, the actual pavement belongs to either the one highway or the other, not both.


U.S. routes

State Highways

Scenic Byways

County highways

County highway systems in Arkansas use a variety of signs, and vary widely from one county to another.

Forest routes

Federal Forest Highway 1110, part of the Sylamore Scenic Byway.

The U.S. Forest Service maintains Federal Forest Highways in Arkansas within the National Forests of Arkansas.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "[Arkansas] State Highways 2009 (Database)." April 2010. AHTD: Planning and Research Division. Database. Retrieved April 11, 2011.
  2. ^ McLaren, Christie. "Arkansas Highway History and Architecture, 1910-1965." Article. Page 4. Retrieved August 19, 2010.
  3. ^ Cook, Larry (1977). The good roads movement: the Arkansas experience, 1900-1923 (Thesis). Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas. p. 2.  
  4. ^ Cook, Larry (1977). The good roads movement: the Arkansas experience, 1900-1923 (Thesis). Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas. p. 4.  
  5. ^ McLaren, Christie. "Arkansas Highway History and Architecture, 1910-1965." Article. Page 5. Retrieved August 19, 2010.
  6. ^ McLaren, Christie. "Arkansas Highway History and Architecture, 1910-1965." Article. Page 7. Retrieved August 19, 2010.
  7. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  8. ^ a b McLaren, Christie. "Arkansas Highway History and Architecture, 1910-1965." Article. Page 9. Retrieved August 19, 2010.
  9. ^ McLaren, Christie. "Arkansas Highway History and Architecture, 1910-1965." Article. Page 10. Retrieved August 19, 2010.
  10. ^ McLaren, Christie. "Arkansas Highway History and Architecture, 1910-1965." Article. Page 13. Retrieved August 20, 2010.
  11. ^ a b c "The Public Roads of Arkansas and their Use." (Report to Committee on Roads and Highways of the Legislative Council) Arkansas State Highway Commission. July 1956.
  12. ^ "Map of State of Arkansas Showing System of Primary and Secondary Federal Aid Roads and Connecting State Roads and Progress of Improvements." December 31, 1924. Arkansas State Highway Department. Map. Retrieved March 12, 2011.
  13. ^ McLaren, Christie. "Arkansas Highway History and Architecture, 1910-1965." Article. Page 10. Retrieved August 20, 2010.
  14. ^ McLaren, Christie. "Arkansas Highway History and Architecture, 1910-1965." Article. Page 11. Retrieved August 20, 2010.
  15. ^ "Appendix H: State Highway System Mileages • 1923 - 1991". Historical review: Arkansas State Highway Commission and Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, 1913-1992. Little Rock, Arkansas: Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department. November 1992. pp. 236–237. 
  16. ^ "Appendix H: State Highway System Mileages • 1923 - 2003". Historical review volume two: Arkansas State Highway Commission and Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, 1913-2003. Little Rock, Arkansas: Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department. 2004. p. 252. 
  17. ^ "Answers to Frequently Asked Questions". Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department. Retrieved October 29, 2010. 
  18. ^ Technical Services Section, Planning and Research Division (2010). "Road and Street Mileage Report" (Database). Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department. Retrieved May 3, 2013. 
  19. ^ Technical Services Section, Planning and Research Division (2012). "Road and Street Mileage Report" (Database). Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department. Retrieved May 3, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Road and Street Mileage Report". 2010. 
  21. ^ a b McLaren, Christie. "Arkansas Highway History and Architecture, 1910-1965" (PDF). p. 11. Retrieved August 20, 2010. 
  22. ^ Brummett, John. "Arkansas highways — what a mess." Arkansas News. Article. Retrieved October 29, 2010.
  23. ^ Oman, Noel E. "State highway chief to retire from agency after 46 years' service." Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. pp. 1B, 6B. June 2, 2010.
  24. ^ DeLorme. Arkansas Atlas and Gazetteer (Map) (Second ed.).

External links

  • Arkansas Highways
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