Bar Left at the Old Church

By Kent

There are four general types of road signs you'll see when traveling our highways that are a lot more descriptive than some instructions you may get will travelling. They are the Regulatory signs, the Warning Signs, the Conventional or Motorist Information Signs, and Guide Signs. Aside from giving us the speed limit, warnings of curves ahead, and the distance to the next town, the signs we see can give additional information if you know what to look for.

Interstate number sheilds tell more than simply the number of the highway if you know how to read them. One or two digit even numbered Interstates always run east and west. The larger the number, the more northern the road, and likewise the smaller the number the further south. If the Interstate is an odd number, then it's always a north-south route. The larger the number, the more eastern the road, and likewise the smaller the number the further west. If the road runs diagonally, the route number is chosen based upon which direction applies to most of the road.

Three digit Interstates are quite a different animal. These are used to number roads connecting to other major highways. If the first digit is an even number, the road normally connects to Interstate at both ends and is frequently a circular loop with the inner loop running clockwise around a city and the outer loop running counterclockwise. If the first digit is an odd number, the road usually connects with an Interstate only at one end, and the other going into the center of the city.

A small sign you'll see near the side of the road is the Mile Marker. They are normally green and frequently just have a number on them with no other information. These show the number of miles from where the Interstate road started in the state you're traveling in. The count always starts at the western border of the state for roads running east and west, and at the southern border of the state for roads running north and south. For example if you're on I81 in Virginia, the lower numbers are near Roanoke, and the higher numbers are near Winchester, and it doesn't matter whether you're looking at the numbers on the southbound side or the northbound side. They are the same.

Knowing your mile markers will help you know how far it is to your destination, and let you know your exact location in case you need to call for help. In addition, many states link the Interstate exit numbers with the mile markers so you can know how far it is to the next exit. Some states simply number the exits consecutively so they aren't much help. To know which you're looking at, just watch the exit numbers and the mile markers to see if they match. If you aren't on an Interstate, the markers and numbering vary from state to state and may not be as predictable.

There are other signs you'll see along the road that give traveler information. Blue Specific Service Signs let you know of gas, food, and lodging stops. Generally speaking, the rules say when you see one of these signs, the service is within 3 miles of the exit, has restrooms and a public phone, and complies with the local licensing and approval authority. If it's a gas station, it's supposed to be in operation 7 days a week and at least 12 hours a day. If food, it has to be open at least 6 days a week and serve 3 meals a day. Tourist-Oriented Directional Signs are normally blue and direct travelers to businesses that get most of their income from tourist road traffic (Something good to know as this leaves a lot of latitude in what can be listed). The Recreational and Cultural Interest Area Signs are normally brown and they are for attractions that are open to the general public for play, amusement or relaxation. These may also carry educational information such as showing parks, camping and hiking areas, and directional information.

Watch for visitor information centers when you cross a state line and you can normally pick up a free road map of the state. Armed with a map and a knowledge of reading the road signs, you can plan your stops as you travel and make your trip more relaxing.

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