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FAQ, Trivia and Information on Life in America: Ask-A-Desi

This section will attempt to address some of the Frequently Asked Questions on Life in the US, Canada and North America that immigrants, visitors and others from different cultures attempt to address. If you have any additional inputs or wish  to see more topics addressed, mail us at

A highway is a main road intended for travel by the public between important destinations, such as cities and towns. Highway designs vary widely and can range from a two-lane road without margins to a multi-lane, grade separated freeway. In law the word highway is often used as a legal term to denote any public road, ranging from freeways to dirt tracks. An interconnected set of highways can be variously referred to as a "highway system", a "highway network" or a "highway transportation system" - Wikipedia

This section will highlight some of the intricacies of the Interstate Highway System, Toll Roads and E-Z Pass and HOV Lanes

Roads and Highways in America

Interstate Highway System

Known officially as the Dwight D Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways, this massive federal road-building project began in the late 1930s. But it wasn't until 1952 that Congress authorized spending and construction began. In 1956, uniform construction standards were adopted, governing such things as access, speeds, number of lanes, width of lanes and width of shoulders.

Standards for numbering the routes

  • North-south highways are numbered Odd in increasing order as you go from west (I-5 in California) to east ( I-97 in Maryland)
  • East-west highways are numbered Even in increasing order as you go from south (I-4 in Florida) to north ( I-96 in Michigan)
  • One other rule is that roads divisible by 5 (E.g I-5, I-10, I-55, I-80, etc.) tend to be the major roads that cross most, if not all, of the country.

Three highways run from coast to coast: I-10, I-80, and I-90.

Seven highways run from border to border: I-5, I-15, I-35, I-55, I-65, I-75, and I-95.

What about 3 digit Interstates?

Most Interstates have children when they reach major cities.

If the baby Interstate goes through the city or all the way around the city, then it will start with an even number. 3-digit Interstates starting with 2, 4, 6, and 8 typically start and end at an interstate. Beltways, like I-495 around Washington D.C, also start with even numbers. When an interstate hits a major urban area, beltways around the city carry a three-digit number. These routes are designated with the number of the main route and an even-numbered prefix. To prevent duplication within a state, prefixes go up. For example, if I-80 runs through three cities in a state, routes around those cities would be I-280, I-480 and I-680. This system is not carried across state lines, so several cities in different states can have a beltway called I-280.

If the baby Interstate stops somewhere in the city, then it gets an odd third digit. They are spur routes (as in spur into a city), that is, a 3-digit Interstates starting with an odd-numbered typically has a dangling end.

Everything Illustrated

In this map of Washington D.C vicinity, you can notice the following:

I-70 is a major (divisible by 5) East-west highway (runs from Baltimore, MD to Cove Ft, UT total 2175 miles)

I-66 is a not so major (not divisible by 5) East-west highway (runs from Washington DC to Middletown, VA, total 77 miles )

I-95 is a major (divisible by 5) North-south highway (runs from Houlton, ME at the Canadian border to Miami, FL, total 1907 miles)

I-495 is the famous Beltway. That is, I-95 instead of passing through Washington D.C, forms a Beltway. Note the three digit numbering and even digit ‘4’

I-270 is a three-digit-loop baby interstate. Note the prefix digit ‘2’ even – because it has Interstate highways on both its ends (I-70 and I-495)

I-395 is a three digit-spur baby interstate. Note the prefix digit ‘3’ odd – because it is a spur into Washington D.C downtown and doesn’t have an Interstate in that end.


Interstate Highways in Washington DC vicinity

System for numbering interstate interchanges, also known as exits

States do this numbering and can choose between two methods:

1. The consecutive numbering system starts at the most western or southern point on each Interstate route, and interchanges are numbered consecutively (so the first one is Exit #1).

2. The milepost system numbers the interchange according to the miles counted, starting at the most western or southern point. An interchange occurring between mileposts 47 and 48 would be designated Exit #47.

Toll Roads and E-Z Pass

You never want to be stuck on a toll road without a pocket full of change. It can be a bit nerve-racking to dig through the car seats, trying to find something to give to the toll booth attendant while drivers behind you honk and yell for you to move on. These are the kinds of situations that cause delays at toll plazas.

Millions of drivers pass through toll booths every day. Traditionally, the process is to put some change in a basket, which tabulates the coins and opens a gate to allow the driver through. Today, many local and state traffic agencies have installed or are installing electronic readers that allow drivers to pass through toll stations without coming to a complete stop. Thus, most toll roads are equipped with an electronic toll-collection system, like E-Z Pass that detects and processes tolls electronically. E-Z Pass is used by several U.S. states (in east coast), but most other electronic toll systems (like I-Pass of our Illinois State) are very similar to E-Z Pass. Basically, E-Z Pass uses a vehicle-mounted transponder that is activated by an antenna on a toll lane. Your account information is stored in the transponder. The antenna identifies your transponder and reads your account information. The amount of the toll is deducted and you're allowed through. Electronic toll collection is designed to make traffic flow faster, as cars don't have to stop to make a transaction.

Here's how the system works

1. As a car approaches a toll plaza, the radio-frequency (RF) field emitted from the antenna activates the transponder.

E-Z Pass - How it works!

2. The transponder broadcasts a signal back to the lane antenna with some basic information.

3. That information is transferred from the lane antenna to the central database.

4. If the account is in good standing, a toll is deducted from the driver's prepaid account.

5. If the toll lane has a gate, the gate opens.

6. A green light indicates that the driver can proceed. Some lanes have text messages that inform drivers of the toll just paid and their account balance.

The entire process takes a matter of seconds to complete. The electronic system records each toll transaction, including the time, date, plaza and toll charge of each vehicle. Typically, consumers maintain prepaid accounts. The lanes are monitored using video cameras. If you try to go through the plaza without a transponder, the camera records you and takes a snapshot of your license plate. The vehicle owner then receives a violation notice in the mail.

HOV Lanes - Less Pollution

High occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, commonly called carpool lanes, are lanes reserved for people who share the ride in carpools, vanpools and/or buses or drive a motorcycle. These lanes are marked with a diamond symbol and HOV signs. HOV lanes reduce traffic congestion, protect the environment and save tax money. They help highways move more people efficiently.

HOV lanes offer relatively fast, reliable travel, particularly when traffic is congested. This is an incentive to commuters who are able to share the ride, which frees up space on unrestricted lanes for those who can't or don't carpool, vanpool, or take the bus. High occupancy vehicle lanes carry more people than unrestricted lanes.

Traffic congestion increases air pollution. The federal government recommends adding HOV lanes to help reduce pollutants from cars and trucks. The major contributor to ozone and carbon monoxide gases in urban areas is the automobile. HOV lanes help because they encourage people to switch from single occupant vehicles to riding in buses, carpools and vanpools. By reducing congestion and air pollution.

Those of you residing in the metro areas of big cities like Atlanta, Houston, SFO, LA, Washington D.C etc., must be knowing about or using HOV lanes. Generally HOV lanes are inner most lane(s) as these are the least affected by traffic entering or exiting the highway. Successful HOV lanes are those that best allow reliable and uninterrupted travel times. This is typically the situation in the left lane where HOVs are less affected by vehicles weaving between lanes. Each state dictates/decides the HOV restrictions and rules. For example, Virginia has a special exemption for less polluting vehicles, even if it's occupied by one person.

Talking of air-pollution and HOV, Hybrid gas-electric autos such as the Toyota Prius, the Honda Insight and the Honda Civic Hybrid are exempt from Virginia's HOV highway restrictions, provided the owner spends $10 for "clean fuel" license plates. (The neighboring state Maryland does not provide this HOV exemption). This is one way that folks can drive alone in the HOV lanes during rush hours and not receive a citation. The Prius (five seats), Civic Hybrid (five seats) and Insight (two seats) work on a combination of gasoline and electric power from self-recharging batteries getting as high as 60 miles to a gallon!!!

Signboard over a HOV Lanes Traffic on HOV Lanes

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Trivia and Questions for Indians and Immigrants in America

General Trivia : Introduction //Dollars and Cents // Social Security Number // About Mail and USPS // Story of The Old Glory // Green Card– Why Not Green? // Telephone Area Codes // Convex Mirrors and Caution // Bankruptcy and Chapter 11 // Radio and TV Broadcasting // Consumerism: Trivia on Wal-Mart. // Retail Trivia // Gas Prices– What's 0.9 Cent? // Roads and Interstate Highways // Road Driving Trivia // Finance 101 // Daylight Saving Time // Trivia on Etiquette

FAQ Disclaimer: All information provided in these FAQ’s is deemed to be accurate by the author.  Due care has been exercised to ensure the veracity of this information and guidelines. However, there may be error (s) and omission (s) and all information is subject to change., and its affiliates do not assume any liability for the information provided herein. The reader is strongly recommended to confirm this information from official sources.

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