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What is U.S. Route 1?

By Jason C. Chavis
Updated May 17, 2024
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U.S. Route 1 is the main highway running along the East Coast in the United States. It covers 2,400 miles (about 3,800 km) north to south from Fort Kent, Maine, to Key West, Florida. As one of the largest coastal highways in the country, it passes through nearly every major city on the Atlantic, enabling drivers to conveniently connect to some of the major population centers in the U.S. The biggest cities located along U.S. Route 1 include Boston, Massachusetts; New York City, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Washington, D.C.; and Miami, Florida.

The precursor to U.S. Route 1 was the Quebec-Miami International Highway, a north-south highway built in 1911 shortly after cars became prominent fixtures on the roadways of America. It became officially known as the Atlantic Highway in 1915. During the 1920s, designations of many roads were being changed as permanent stretches were being established. New England renamed the section of the Atlantic Highway Route 1. This eventually was extended to New York City in 1924.

In 1925, the federal government established the Joint Board on Interstate Highways, a panel overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation. This group organized the existing roadways around the country into a concretely numbered system. Each north-south highway would receive odd numbers, while west-east highways were to be even. This board designated the stretch along the Atlantic as U.S. Route 1.

Route 1 quickly became one of the busiest roadways in the country, particularly between Boston and Washington, D.C. By the 1950s, the Interstate Highway System was in the midst of being constructed. This was an attempt by the federal government to create an intricate system of roads and highways that would connect every state and major population center with logical transit methods. Since Route 1 was so busy, it was deemed that some sort of secondary highway needed to be built to relieve the stress.

Interstate 95 is the primary bypass for U.S. Route 1. It runs parallel with the coastal highway and is situated between Route 1 and Route 2 further west. Construction on the highway began in the 1950s and continues today. Most notably, a section of roadway between Pennsylvania and New Jersey is scheduled to be completed in 2014.

U.S. Route 1 varies between two-lane and four-lane configurations in different areas. Logically, the most populated areas generally have larger sections, while the less populated require less traffic space. Due to the age of the highway, many sections are under construction for repair at all times. While much of the funding for the maintenance is handled by payments from the federal government, the overall cost requires additional income from the states to keep Route 1 from disrepair. Most of the states in which the highway runs have added tolls at various points to help pay for this construction.

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Discussion Comments
By anon225617 — On Oct 27, 2011

Hey Jester I & A1A in Fla. Rte 1 can be tedious but it is a real taste of Americana. Strip malls, burger joints it's all on this road. (5 is great but so desolate). When we were kids, highway traveling had some interest. Now the car has to be loaded up with videos, games, etc.

I saw everything from chain gangs to a rodeo from the backseat of my parents' car! Plus the rest stops many times were located on roads with beautiful vistas such as skyline drive.

By seafoam — On Jun 09, 2011

Some USA roads are historically important and worth driving...US 1 is definitely one of them!

I love the east coast from north to south and US 1 is a great way to taste the culture of each state.

By Jester39 — On Jun 06, 2011

If you take route 1 through the USA, it will be slow-going but beautiful through the state of Florida.

If you get on Route 1 beginning at the southern tip of Key West and travel north, you will see the most amazing and glorious water vistas as you travel north to Miami.

US 1 and Route 66 have incredible stories to tell if you have the time and the patience (and gas money!).

Get out your camera and get ready for some fun!

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