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Section 5: National Highway System

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Federal/TxDOT Authority

ISTEA Section 1006 called for the creation of the National Highway System (NHS). The National Highway System Designation Act of 1995 was signed into law on November 28, 1995. The legislation designates that NHS be developed by the Secretary of Transportation in cooperation with states, local officials, and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs).

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Purpose of the NHS

The purpose of the NHS is to provide an interconnected system of principal arterial routes which will serve major population centers, international border crossings, ports, airports, public transportation facilities, and other intermodal transportation facilities and major travel destinations; meet national defense requirements; and serve interstate and interregional travel.

The NHS consists of highways designated as:

  • part of the Interstate System
  • urban and rural principal arterials and highways (including toll facilities) which provide motor vehicle access to major ports, airports, and public and intermodal transportation facilities
  • a strategic network of highways that provides defense access, continuity, and emergency capabilities for the movement of personnel, material, and equipment in both peacetime and wartime
  • highway connectors which provide motor vehicle access between major military installations and highways that are part of the strategic highway network.

All designs for new construction, reconstruction, resurfacing, restoration, or rehabilitation of a highway on the NHS will provide for a facility that will adequately serve the existing and planned future traffic of the highway in a manner conducive to safety, durability, and economy of maintenance. The highway will also be designed and constructed in accordance with criteria best suited to accomplish the previously stated objectives and to conform to the particular needs of each locality.

Factors within each locality that will be taken into account include the constructed and natural environment of the area; the environmental, scenic, aesthetic, historic, community, and preservation impacts of the activity; and access for other modes of transportation. Expansion on criteria components can be found in 23 USC §109(d) through 23 USC §109(l).

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Other Information

The National Highway System is a dynamic system that can change in response to future travel and trade demands. The NHS legislation permits the Secretary of Transportation to approve most modifications to the system without congressional approval. States must cooperate with local and regional officials in proposing modifications to the system. In metropolitan areas, local and regional officials act through their MPOs. The main exceptions to the Secretary’s discretion are connections to major intermodal terminals (ports, airports, rail terminals, etc.). These require a one-time congressional approval. Proposed changes to the NHS shall use the functional reclassification of roads and streets carried out under ISTEA Section 1006(c).

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