The Eisenhower interstate system is one of the best things to ever happen to the US. This massive infrastructure project played a huge role in securing America’s status as a dominant economic power during the Cold War. Interstates are now ingrained into American culture and everyday life, and I would bet that nearly every reader of this article has taken at least one in the last month or so. They are quite simply the easiest way to get from point A to point B, whether that involves a 10-minute commute to work or a trek across the country.

The nature of the system makes interstate highways some of the longest continuous roads in the country. From Seattle to Boston on I-90, or Maine to Miami on 95, the exits just keep rolling. Lying in this maze of 1,000+ mile beasts, however, lie forgotten, much shorter roads that nevertheless sport the same blue shield. This article will pay homage to these diminutive, yet essential, interstate highways.

In fact, I’ll be looking to see which highway deserves the illustrious title of “shortest interstate.” The answer, as it turns out, isn’t as black and white as it may seem.

• • •

I-375

Let’s begin with the seemingly obvious answer: the shortest stretch of interstate by mileage. This would be I-375. There are actually two interstates numbered 375; one in Florida and the other in Michigan. We’ll be focusing on the one in Michigan, or more specifically Detroit. You’ll notice I-375 has three numbers instead of the usual two. This is because it is a spur off of I-75 which leads into the heart of the Motor City (you can read more about interstate numbering protocols here, if that’s your thing).

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Signage for I-375. Photo by bankbryan on Flickr (cc)

In any case, Detroit’s I-375 (see map) holds the title of shortest officially signed interstate at a whopping 1.06 total miles. That’s absurdly small; it would take only about 15 minutes to walk the entire length of the highway, compared to the over 1,000 hours it would take to walk all of I-90. This miniscule interstate may add to its total distance in the near future, as there are currently plans to extend it. Even so, it will still have a death grip on its title – the planned extension is only three blocks long.

This may seem like the definitively shortest interstate. However, 3-digit interstates are by definition part of the larger framework of their parent 2-digit interstate. By this rule, I-375 would actually be part of I-75, and would absolutely be eliminated from contention. If we’re looking for the “textbook” definition of the shortest interstate, we must focus only on 2-digit interstates.

• • •

I-11

With our new rules in place, the search for the shortest interstate takes us to Boulder City, Nevada, and the contender that is Interstate 11. This road posts a hard-to beat total distance of only 2.5 miles from its northern terminus at I-515 to its southern terminus at Route 93. Most travelers on this interstate (which is one of the nation’s newest, established in 2017) probably don’t realize they’ve ever left I-515.

Map of Interstate 11

A quick glance at Wikipedia seems to indicate that I-11 clearly deserves the crown of shortest interstate. However, a closer inspection reveals some key asterisks in the road’s claim to undersized glory. Like I-375, I-11 is due for an extension. This extension, however, runs much longer; The highway is eventually intended to run all the way from Reno to a junction with I-40 in Kingman, Arizona. Once the highway is finished, I-11 will have no shot at the title.

The second shortest 2-digit interstate, I-87 in North Carolina (also established 2017), suffers the same fate; it is eventually supposed to run all the way to Virginia Beach. These brand-new interstates feel like cheating to me. To truly figure out which interstate is shortest, I’m imposing a new rule: the interstate must be completed, with no impending plans for extension.

• • •

I-97

The next contender for the title comes to us from the urban landscape of Maryland. I-97 (see map) runs between I-695 in Baltimore to Route 50 in Annapolis for a total distance of only 17.62 miles. While this is substantially longer than each of the first two entries of this article, I-97 has a bona fide reputation as a standalone interstate to fall back on – it’s been around since 1987, and there are no plans to extend it beyond its current mileage.

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Aerial View of Interstate 97. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr (cc)

I-97 seems like it should be a 3-digit interstate – after all, it is a fairly short spur branching out from the I-95 network in Baltimore. However, the precise location of this highway preserves its status as a uniquely numbered interstate. I-97’s northern terminus falls at the previously mentioned I-695, which is itself a loop road for the main artery I-95. Since I-97 never touches I-95 directly, it cannot be classified as a spur. There are no interstate numbering protocols for 3-digit highways which branch off from other 3-digit highways; therefore, I-97 keeps its exclusive status, and its claim to this all-important title.

So, this seems like an open-and-shut case. I-97 should be declared the rightful claimant for the title of shortest interstate…

• • •

I-66

…Or should it? It’s all well and good that I-97 is short, and will remain short for the foreseeable future. However, the name interstate alone dictates my problem with granting I-97 the title. Highways that are designated interstates should, well, go between states. I-97 runs entirely within Maryland; that makes it more of an “intrastate” highway, in my opinion. So, to rightfully claim the title, an interstate must cross at least one state line.

This brings us to I-66, which stretches 76.28 miles through Virginia and Washington DC. I was actually surprised to learn that this was the smallest “true” interstate; I assumed that there would be a shorter example hidden in the tiny states of New England. However, it appears that the greater Capital region hosts the shortest interstates in the country on average; the next shortest “true” interstate, I-83, runs between Baltimore and Pennsylvania.

Interstate 66 near its eastern terminus in Washington, DC

Which interstate do you think truly deserves the title? My vote goes to I-97, although all entries were worthy competitors!

 

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