'I-90' or 'The 90'?
August 8, 2014 5:53 AM   Subscribe

Looking at Tuesday's post about the worst highways in America, there were a few mentions of 'the 90', 'the 45', 'the 10', etc., while most comments used the format 'I-10' or 'I10', or just '10'. I'm wondering if there is a map of, or even just a general sense of, where the 'the X' format is used in referring to interstates.

I had first heard this usage in California, and thought it was limited to there. I remember watching a TV show that was set in Buffalo where one of the characters referred to a traffic back-up on 'the 90', and thought that was an error by the writer (presumably from California) and that people in NY would not talk that way, but when I mentioned this to someone from Buffalo, she said that it was common there. Commenters on the blue were also from Texas and Chicago.

So I've always lived on the east coast and never heard this usage until I was in my 40's. I'm curious which parts of the country use 'the X' (and I have no idea how to Google that effectively), or if it is something that just started in the 90's.
posted by MtDewd to Travel & Transportation (60 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've heard in California and Canada (which would explain Buffalo).
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:57 AM on August 8

At this end it's "Mass Pike" no numeric reference ever used. :-)
posted by sammyo at 6:01 AM on August 8 [6 favorites]

Places I've lived where "the X" was a thing:
California, early '90s

Places I've lived where it wasn't:
Northern Nevada, '80s (there weren't enough highways that we really even talked about them, though)
Georgia/South Carolina, late '90s
Central New York/Massachusetts/Eastern New York/New Jersey, '00s
Detroit, '10s
posted by Etrigan at 6:04 AM on August 8

Even more fine grained, this is a southern California thing. As someone who grew up in northern CA, this was a sure way to tell someone from the southland.
posted by Betelgeuse at 6:05 AM on August 8 [15 favorites]

I'm from California, so I employ "the x" pretty liberally.

I know that I95 is I95 all up and down the east coast. Even I refer to it with the I in front.

In Georgia we just use the numbers, 285, 75, 85 and 20.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:05 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]

I'm a life-long New Englander and I've always associated the use of "the [number]" with only California.
And I've rarely heard the numbers prefixed with "I".
posted by jozxyqk at 6:06 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]

While there are some outliers, it's pretty much confined, in my experience, to Southern California. Virtually no one, for example, refers to Interstate 95 as anything but I-95. It's never The 95.

That said, never take traffic reports as an indicator of what people call things. They're doing the same thing every day with the same roads, so they try to change things up for novelty and brevity's sake.
posted by inturnaround at 6:08 AM on August 8

I have never heard anyone say it who wasn't from Sourthern California. In particular, I've lived in Missouri, Iowa, and Boston. My girlfriend, an Orange County native, is constantly flabbergasted by people who don't use the definite article.

Did hear a mix of I-35 and 35 growing up, if that's a helpful data point.
posted by dismas at 6:08 AM on August 8

Also this is a particular repeated joke in the Californians SNL sketches, for whatever that's worth.
posted by dismas at 6:10 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]

We don't say it in Texas - it's always a tell when someone's from California because they talk about "the 35".

I also hear (and use) I-35 and 35 interchangeably
posted by katemonster at 6:12 AM on August 8

> I know that I95 is I95 all up and down the east coast. Even I refer to it with the I in front.

In some parts of Maine, it's just "the interstate."

I grew up in New England and I seem to recall that in other places that it seemed to be evenly split between "I-95/495/93" and just "95/495/93."

90 is the Mass Pike and other MA state routes are either "Route 128" or "128" pretty evenly split too.
posted by Gev at 6:17 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]

I grew up in the LA area and have since lived in Connecticut, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis and DC for various periods of time. My experience agrees with what everyone says, that the "the [number]" is limited to southern, and not northern, California: US 101 is definitely "the 101" in Los Angeles and just "101" in San Francisco, changing somewhere in the middle of the state.

This is ingrained enough for me that freeways* with the same number in different parts of the country that I've lived in can be distinguished solely by the article:
- "The 91" for me only means CA SR 91
- "91" only means I-91, which I'm familiar with having lived in New England.

Similarly, it is equally weird for me to call I-95 "the 95" or I-94 "the 94" as it would be to call I-405 just "405" or I-5 (in LA) just "5."

*Incidentally, I also shift between "freeway" and "highway" as the generic term for a limited-access, high-speed roadway (whether or not it is an interstate or has tolls). It is almost always "freeway" in California; when I first moved east I was a little startled when I realized that everyone said "highway" instead.
posted by andrewesque at 6:20 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]

While in Texas people usually refer to Interstate 35 as either "I-35" or "35" (never "the 35"). The Texas Department of Transportation officially designates it "IH-35". It's believed this is because all other highway designations in Texas have a two-letter abbreviation. (See "IH" in the Texas Highways Primer in the Texas Highway Man Pages). Sometimes this usage would pass into non-highway nerds, but not often.

I think three digit highways were somewhat different—I rarely heard anyone refer to "I-610," or "IH-610", just "610".

Relevant fact: some, but not all, states try to keep route numbers unique across all highway types. This is the reason for the oddly numbered Interstate 238. According to the normal rules for numbering Interstate loops, it should be a three-digit number ending in 80, but those were already all in use in California for either Interstate or state routes.
posted by grouse at 6:22 AM on August 8

I lived in the midwest, and then I've lived in southern California for the last 15 years. "The x" for interstates is pretty standard here, while in the midwest, it was "I-90" for example. The reason that was given to me here is that here freeways have names as well that predated becoming interstates, and for some reason part of the naming conventation transferred over. So, for example, I-10 was (and is) also known as the San Bernardino Freeway or the Santa Monica Freeway. The word the seems to have carried over.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:25 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]

I'm from New England and nobody seems to say "The 95", though when I go to Canada they often say "The 401."

I wonder if it has to do with what number your local highways start with? Maybe "The four..." sounds better than "The ninety..."

That's probably a dumb theory but it's the theory that I have. Which is mine.
posted by bondcliff at 6:29 AM on August 8

Canada is probably following the British way, which is to include both the "the" and the letter: "The M11." Part of this is because, expanding on grouse's point, road numbers are not unique over here. For example, the M11 and A11 are two different roads that pass by Cambridge, so saying "the 11" wouldn't work. The other part of it is the colourful British tendency to stick "the"s in all sorts of weird places, probably to keep the extra, unnecessary "u"s company.
posted by penguinicity at 6:32 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]

It's definitely a thing around Buffalo, NY, not sure how far it extends into the rest of Wester New York. Interstates get it (the 90, the 190, the 290), as well as other limited-access highways. So there's the 33, and the 219, but not the 5 or the 62. I can't speak to when this started since I was born in the late 80s, but this is how I always heard adults refer to them.

I haven't heard it anywhere else I've lived (other parts of Upstate NY, CT, and NC). I wouldn't use the article "the" for any of the highways around here in NC because it sounds bizarre, but if I'm back in Buffalo I'll use it.
posted by radiomayonnaise at 6:37 AM on August 8

I've heard in California and Canada (which would explain Buffalo).

I'm Canadian.

The phrasing "the 401" or "the QEW" is common for those roads which are Ontario Provincial highways. Highway 20 and Highway 40 is what I am used to hearing for Quebec provincial highways and Highway 1 for the Trans-Canada.

"I90" and "I95" is is what I have always hear used for the American Interstate highways.
posted by TORunner at 6:39 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]

NYC here:

I95 is "I95"
I90 is "the thruway"; I 495 is "the LIE"
I80/81/280/380/84/87 are "80"/"81" etc, except 87 is also "the thruway" sometimes

Here's a blog post about the "THE" controversy, and article about highway linguistics (and another), and another, and a stack exchange discussion.
posted by melissasaurus at 6:46 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]

Interesting. I've lived in Richmond Va where it was always either "95" or "I-95", and now live in Buffalo where I can confirm it's "The 90", "The 190", "The 33", or "The Thru-way" or "The Mainline" (the latter two are how the local NPR reporter refers to them). It appears to be the definitive article that makes the difference, but I have no idea how that started.
posted by gorbichov at 6:56 AM on August 8

Strictly speaking here in Buffamalo it's closer to "the tyoo nyanty."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:06 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]

Yes "the 101" is a SoCal thing. In NorCal we just say "101."

I lived in New Orleans and they would say "I-10" and the like. They would also refer to "the interstate" the way I would normally say "the highway."
posted by radioamy at 7:09 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]

Grew up in Chicago, live in Texas. I do not use the "the."

Texas has such a plethora of numbered roads that giving and reading directions gets confusing without the type of road being identified so that you know what kind of route shield to look for. So when I'm trying to explain a route to someone who might not know it, I include the type of road. For example "Take FM 969 to SH 130, exit at US 79 and take east that to RR 428 Turn left and stay on that until you get to the turnoff for CR 486.

My parents, still in Chicago, only refer to expressways by name, never by number. It's always "the Dan Ryan" or "the Eisenhower." I've never connected the names to the numbers, so to this day, I still have no idea what roads they're talking about.
posted by adamrice at 7:11 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]

I'm from Florida, and I usually hear it referred to as "I-10, I-75, I-4, and I-95". Of course, because of how many displaced Northerners we got in my hometown, I did hear the interstates used a few times without the "I" prefix, but it wasn't common. It's usually reserved for state and county roads that would be lacking that prefix anyway.
posted by PearlRose at 7:12 AM on August 8

Oh, and upon preview, I got into the habit of referring to roads by their names instead of their numbers, although I think that's an "I'm weird" thing more than a local custom thing, since I confused everyone else when I did so.
posted by PearlRose at 7:13 AM on August 8

On Long Island, all the numbered roads are just numbers (347, 454), except (as above) I-495 is "the LIE" and NY-135 is (usually) "the 135," although you might also call it by its name, "the Seaford-Oyster Bay."

I'd never pronounce the I before I-95, although I might write it for clarity.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:17 AM on August 8

Here in Rochester, NY I-90 is always The Thruway. I-390/1-490 are 390 and 490. You almost never hear "Route" or "I-" used except possibly when giving directions to out-of-towners.
posted by tommasz at 7:24 AM on August 8

The reason that was given to me here is that here freeways have names as well that predated becoming interstates, and for some reason part of the naming conventation transferred over. So, for example, I-10 was (and is) also known as the San Bernardino Freeway or the Santa Monica Freeway.

That's exactly what I had thought, but there are lots of named roads in the east- the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the LIE, the 'X' Beltway, the 'X' Turnpike/Thruway...
For some reason it didn't catch on here.
posted by MtDewd at 7:24 AM on August 8

My parents, still in Chicago, only refer to expressways by name, never by number. It's always "the Dan Ryan" or "the Eisenhower." I've never connected the names to the numbers, so to this day, I still have no idea what roads they're talking about.

This definitely happens in Texas too. In Austin, outsiders are often very confused by the fact that people call LP 1 "Mopac." When I first moved there, signage that actually said "Mopac" was minimal. I've heard freeway names used often in Houston ("Gulf Freeway," "Southwest Freeway"), and in Dallas too ("Stemmons") although somewhat less frequently.
posted by grouse at 7:28 AM on August 8

Growing up on Vancouver Island, we never used the highway numbers, but we certainly use "the". It was always "the Pat Bay Highway" or "the Island Highway" and "the Old Island Highway". When people have visited from California who rent a car ask talk about "the 17" I have no idea which highway they're talking about. for extra confusion, the Pat Bay highway doesn't actually go to Patricia Bay -- that's where the old highway it replaced went, but the new one is on the other side of the peninsula and goes to Swartz Bay. And there are now multiple Old Island Highways which are in totally different places.
posted by Emanuel at 7:32 AM on August 8

North Dakota/ Minnesota here: Interstates are "I-29", I-94"; US highways are "highway 10" or "highway 52", not "US 10" or "US 52"; sometimes, when the path of the old US highway is moved to coincide with a higher-volume road, the original path gets called "Old 52", "old 81", etc.

Wifey is from Wisconsin, and the naming convention is about the same -- although we had a rousing debate over whether the Eisenhower System roads are the "interstate" or the "freeway". North Dakota says "interstate", Wisconsin (presumably due to more common toll roads) is "freeway".
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:48 AM on August 8

nthing that it's a southern California thing.
It's also impossible to stop using "The" once you started. I grew up in the Mid-West, so always just used "I-80". After living in Southern California for a decade, all highways must be prefaced with "The". I live on the East Coast now, and have for longer than I lived in California, but I cannot stop.
posted by Eddie Mars at 7:52 AM on August 8

As someone from central California who was transplanted to SoCal, I refer to "99", which I grew up with, as "99", and everything else as "the."
posted by OolooKitty at 7:57 AM on August 8

About the named road tangent: That seems to be particularly a thing around NYC where you have named roads, bridges and tunnels (The Major Deegan, the Throgs Neck, the Van Wyck, etc.) and the major directional signage tends to the names much more prominently than the numbers, so you better know the names of the roads you want.

Originally of course all the highways had names; numbering systems came into being in the 1920s.
posted by beagle at 8:06 AM on August 8

Native Chicagoan who has lived in Portland, OR & NYC:

I here could mean Interstate but also Illinois as in like, a state not interstate highway. I wonder if other "I" states also have this problem and don't say "I-25" or whatever.

My experience is people old enough to know why being "interstate" is a big deal, i.e. remember a time without them, use the I prefix. But we use the and, like someone else said, in the city the names of the highway.

Chicagoans love adding "the" before things but when referring to highways by number I think the or not the is totally interchangeable. I definitely hear people say "we took the 294" but also "Take 90/94."
posted by jennybento at 8:09 AM on August 8

Another data point: I almost always hear "I-##" said in the Midwest, with the exception that for the continental routes "80" and "90" get used a lot. And then there's Chicago.

I, too, remember last century when 101 was the Ventura freeway, I-405 was the San Diego freeway, and I-10 was the Santa Monica freeway (changing into the San Bernardino freeway), and I-5 the Golden State freeway (changing into the Santa Ana freeway). I this was so rational and helpful, to have the names reflect where the road headed or served.
posted by lathrop at 8:11 AM on August 8

In Detroit, you would refer to "the Lodge" (M-10), "the Chrysler" (I-75), "the Ford" (I-94), or "the Jeffries" (I-96), but you would never say "the 96" or "the 75".
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 8:14 AM on August 8

I've always lived on the East Coast. I have lived in NY, MA, NH, VA, and MD.

In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, people almost never referred to roads by numbers, and always used the names: "Central Artery (I-93), Mass Pike (I-90), Everett Turnpike (US 3)" et cetera. This was very confusing to me as a non-native.

Exceptions were numbers only: 495, 93, 20... or if single syllable numbers they would be "Route X" (pronounced root not rowt) -- such as "Route 1" or "Route 3."

In central New York it was always always ALWAYS "Route X" (root). Route 81 for I-81, Route 17, Route 79.

On Long Island it was names (or initials) not numbers. I-495 was "the LIE", I-678 "the Van Wyck", I-278 "the BQE". NY 27 was "Sunrise Highway," NY 25A was "Northern Boulevard," NY 25 was "Jericho Turnpike," et cetera.

In the DC area it seems to be mostly name only (confusing, as "The Beltway" can refer to either I-495 or I-695 depending upon the source), with the number only: 795, 140, 175, 100, 32. I've been here going on five years and I'm STILL trying to figure out what the hell roads "The JFX" and "The Harrisburg" refers to in traffic reports ("The JFX" is usually followed by "by the Pepsi sign." Guess I don't drive on those roads, ever.)

I've only heard "the X" when I worked with a lot of people who had just moved from the UK, they said "the 90," "the 20," "the 128" -- and it sounded VERY unusual to me.

I had a girlfriend in the Niagara Falls area of Canada once. Roads there were also "the X" -- "the 406," "the 401," "the QEW" -- but that seemed to refer to expressways only.
posted by tckma at 8:25 AM on August 8

I live in Seattle, and our major highways are pronounced as follows: I-5, 405, 520, 90, Highway 2, 167. Sometimes the "I" will be dropped off of "I-5," but you never get "the 5" unless someone's a SoCal transplant.
posted by KathrynT at 8:27 AM on August 8

Grew up in North Carolina. We just said the number, i.e. 40, 54, 15-501, etc. If you were following a map you might say I-40, but only for interstates - no one ever said "N.C. 54," although they might say "highway 54." If it's something like the I-40 loop near Greensboro, that's called Business 40 (also, a fucking disaster). No one ever said "the 40" or anything like that.
posted by dekathelon at 8:31 AM on August 8

A lot of people here in Maryland drop "I" or "Route" and refer to a road by just the number when it doesn't have a name.

This sometimes confuses me as I live about an hour from where I work. I commute using MD-97, which I and people I know near my home call "97." This is a two lane road through farm country. So, it takes me a bit to realize that co-workers complaining about and traffic reports referencing "traffic on 97" are not crazy but rather referring to Interstate 97, which is in a different part of the state.
posted by tckma at 8:38 AM on August 8

The phrasing "the 401" or "the QEW" is common for those roads which are Ontario Provincial highways.

Only if they're limited-access highways; it's "Highway X" otherwise. Nobody says "the 7" or "the 48" or "the 11." (Some municipal highways like "the DVP" and "the Gardiner" also follow the same convention as the 400-series highways.)

In Florida, however, it's usually just "[number]" or "I-[number]" (and sometimes "U.S. [number]"). Named roads like "the Turnpike" and "the Beach Bee Line" get the article. People are going to look at you funny if you ask where the A1A is.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:53 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]

It's 95 North/South, 64 East/West, 288 North/South and 295 North/South here in Richmond, Va. But it's also "the downtown expresssway" (195) and I've also heard "The Powhite" for Powhite Parkway.
posted by emelenjr at 9:09 AM on August 8

Kevin Drum wrote about this back in 2008; my blog post linking to it got some interesting comments as well.
posted by languagehat at 9:13 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]

In NYC, its usually "The+abbreviation of given names."

All the highways within the city limits go by the given names. You almost never hear anyone say I-278 rather than "the BQE" (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway," or I-678 rather than "the Van Wyck." You will occasionally hear someone say I-95 rather than "the Cross-Bronx," but its usually the latter. I-87 is "the Major Deegan" in the Bronx and "the Thruway" (New York Thruway) north of it, to Albany.

There is some weirdness in the suburbs. I-95 in NJ is "the Turnpike," (New Jersey Turnpike) and its "the Cross-Bronx" in the Bronx, but in Westchester and CT people usually just call it "95," even though it does have names there. In NJ generally, roads are called by their numbers - no "the" - with the exception of the Turnpike and the Parkway (Garden State Parkway). I've also heard I-287 through Westchester called both "the Cross-Westchester" and "287."

People usually don't include the "I" - so "78" rather than "I-78" - when referencing the numbers, but "I" isn't uncommon. I think it's more likely to be used when giving directions than in regular conversation.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:22 AM on August 8

Also, an odd thing I've noticed that seems specific to the Boston area: when a state route and an interstate are running along the same road for a good length, people will use the number of the state route. So I-93 becomes 3, I-95 becomes 128, and so on.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:26 AM on August 8

As an aside, 3rd Street here in L.A. (which runs from downtown to beverly hills) is really fast for getting across town. My friends and I sometimes refer to it as "the 3"
posted by sexyrobot at 9:30 AM on August 8

More anecdata for you: I grew up in the Bay Area and since then I've lived in the Husdon Valley/NYC metro for 10 years.

Growing up we never put "the" in front of highway numbers. It was always 101, 580, 880, 80, etc. My understanding is that this is a very NorCal thing. Everyone I've met from SoCal would put "the" in front of highway numbers. As mentioned above, this is the easiest way to determine who is from NorCal vs. SoCal.

Since moving to New York I also still never put "the" in front of highway numbers, and neither do the folks around me. Either we just say the number - so 1-95 is 95, 1-84 is 84 - or the actual name of the highway (since, as also mentioned above, many highways here have formal names) - so 1-87 is 87 or The Thruway, I-90 is 90 or the Mass Pike.

Route 9 is 9 (though I wouldn't find it odd for someone to call it "Route 9").

And then all of the highways that have names are just known by their names - the Major Deegan, the Van Wyck, the Taconic, the Saw Mill Parkway, etc. etc. Or if their names are a mouthful, i.e. the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway or the Long Island Expressway, we just shorten them to their initials (so, BQE and LIE).

In short, in my experience, the only people I know who stick "the" in front of highway numbers are from SoCal.
posted by thereemix at 9:54 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]

That's exactly what I had thought, but there are lots of named roads in the east- the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the LIE, the 'X' Beltway, the 'X' Turnpike/Thruway...
For some reason it didn't catch on here.

Not so. For example, the historic Merritt Parkway (aka CT 15 in Fairfield County) is still colloquially called "The Merritt" by locals. Interestingly, some GPS devices will say "Route 15 Merritt Parkway" and some will just say "Route 15."

In my part of Massachusetts, I-90 is just The Pike and when I lived in New York, we only called I-87 The Thruway.
posted by epanalepsis at 10:02 AM on August 8

Yep, I grew up alternating between Northern and Southern CA. "5" turns in to "The 5" as you go south.

Contrary to KathrynT's experience here in the Seattle area, we have an oddball (or maybe all the people I know are weird.) It's 3, 16, 90, 520, 518... but always "I-5" and "The 405" for some reason.
posted by ctmf at 11:37 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]

Also, an odd thing I've noticed that seems specific to the Boston area: when a state route and an interstate are running along the same road for a good length, people will use the number of the state route. So I-93 becomes 3, I-95 becomes 128, and so on.

I assume that is because those highways pre-date the interstate system. MA-128 was MA-128 long before it was I-95, and MA-3 was MA-3 long before it was I-93. When these roads got their interstate designations, locals preferred to call them by the names they were used to calling them by.
posted by tckma at 11:44 AM on August 8

Not so. For example, the historic Merritt Parkway (aka CT 15 in Fairfield County) is still colloquially called "The Merritt" by locals.
I almost used The Merritt as an example. What I meant didn't catch on in the east was changing to calling it 'The 15'.

"Route X" (pronounced root not rowt)
I grew up in central PA and heard a lot of 'rowt', but some 'root'. Mostly 'root' elsewhere.
posted by MtDewd at 12:06 PM on August 8

A little more anecdata for you: born in NY, grew up in VA and NC, lived in SC and TX. In all those places I can't recall hearing "the NNN" except for out-of-towners, usually from CA. However, I moved to Chicago in 2006. Around here, as alluded to above, the interstates are named, so you hear a lot of references to "the Kennedy", "the Dan Ryan", "the Jane Addams", etc. After 8 years here I still get confused about where some of them start and end (eg, depending on which stretch of it you're on, I94 can be the Kennedy, the Edens, the Tri-State, or one or two others I can never even recall the names of), so I mostly use the highway numbers except for when it's a bit I'm positive of. However, because of the prevalence of "the Foo Expressway" I'll often find myself in a state of nominal confusion and refer to, for example, taking "the 294".

I don't hear much of that from others around me, though, so it's probably just a personal eccentricity.
posted by jammer at 12:17 PM on August 8

Something I haven't heard mentioned yet: I grew up in Dallas, now live in Seattle, and if you said "the 45" or "the 90" to me, I would assume you were talking about a bus route. (Highways would be 45 or I-45, 90 or I-90.)
posted by hishtafel at 12:40 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]

I'm on the OR/WA border, and highways/interstates are often referred to verbally just by their number, with an occasional I-84. It's a more common to say highway + number than it is to say I + number.

We never say "The 84" - but it's also REALLY common to call it "The Highway". Even though it's an interstate, if someone says the highway, but gives no other defining clues, it's 95% chance they mean I-84. (Even though we have state highways nearby - those would likely be specified if it wasn't obvious in conversation.)
posted by stormyteal at 2:12 PM on August 8

Seattle is wacky, it goes both ways. There is the I-90 and the I-5, but interstate 405 is always referred to as the 405. Who says regions need to be internally consistent?
posted by crazycanuck at 7:05 PM on August 8

More data points: I grew up in southwestern Michigan (Kalamazoo suburbs), and we always referred to highways as "I-94", "US-131", and "M-43", etc. I for Interstate, US for the US highway system and M for Michigan state highways.

I now live in western Massachusetts, where I-90 is "the Pike" (not Mass Pike, because we take that for granted) and everything else is "Route X", whether it's Route 2 (aka the Mohawk Trail, west of Greenfield), Route 91 (aka I-91), or Route 9 (Massachusetts highway 9).

I was in DC last week and pegged a new friend as being from California because she referred to I-66 as "the 66". Turns out that she grew up in Rochester, NY, but spent formative years in Palo Alto.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:07 PM on August 8

When I was a lad, before Eisenhower commissioned the National Defense Highway system we all now know and love, we often referred to State highways using a "the" prefix. The 99 Highway, for example, or maybe Highway 99. County roads were called either "avenues" or "roads," depending whether they ran east-west or north-south. Anything called "Highway" usually had a white line down the middle. Roads and Avenues north of Fresno generally were both numbered (Avenue 12, Road 34). Avenues went east and west and roads went north and south. More or less. Anyhow, they didn't rate a definite article. This was confusing only if you weren't from around there.

In those days the Highways generally had a speed limit of 65 mph, with slowdown zones near the busier rural intersections. Roads and Avenues, generally, were either 45 or 55 mph, depending on the density of the field crops in any given area. In the late 50's, The 99 got converted to a divided highway, bypassing the downtown area of Fresno. We called it simply "the Freeway," and Highway 99 became "The old 99." The 99 Highway was route that was ingrained on us. We followed it north and south, when we worked in field crops. I guess you could say it was sort of like The Chisholm Trail to us. Using a definite article as a prefix seems to my ears like a way of evoking some undefined sense of history.

We went to the coast (from near Fresno) taking The 41 Highway, to where it joins Highway 46, then to The 101, and go south for a few miles, then back on 46 to Highway 1 (never 1 Highway).

As you can see, there seems to be some sort of pattern here, but it's beyond me to recognize it.

Nowadays I usually hear I-5, but in a different context, The I-5. If I'm going through a system of urban interchanges, then I'll be likely to take The 395 to The I-5. Okay, that's a wildly hypothetical if, on account of I don't go to LA anymore, and won't ever again, unless somebody pays me much, much money, and demonstrates that it's necessary to save the Universe.
posted by mule98J at 10:52 AM on August 9

As a nearly-lifelong L.A. resident, this previous question about the subject is one of my all-time favorites.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:11 PM on August 9

I should mention that, as the person responsible for about 2/3 or 3/4 of your examples from that thread (the 45, the 10, and the 35 for good measure plus the 29 which you didn't mention), I live in Texas but am from SoCal, which is where the extra 'the' is coming from. So don't rely on Mefite geographical locations to pin down this phenomenon!
posted by librarylis at 9:32 PM on August 10

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