In the beginning....
HISTORY OF NUMBERING
The early 1920's CTB minutes show a document (dated November 1919) called "Proposed Program of Construction and Resurfacing 1917-1921" that appeared to be updated monthly in terms of money allocated to specific sections of state highways. The earliest available version of this so far is March 1920, which showed the following numbered routes: 1-14, 16-21, 23-24. Routes 22 and 26 were listed as “to be designated” and routes 15 and 25 were not mentioned at all. The latest version of this document appears to be January 1921 (added VA 22 and extended VA 21 among other changes). This document was revised to “Proposed Program of Construction and Resurfacing 1919-1921” for use during 1921. This document added VA 27 as Great Bridge Road in February 1921 and the Document ceased to be listed after June 1921.
As far as I can tell, the early versions of the state highway system did not quite reach every county (definitely not every county seat). The original mileage of the system was 4007 miles (1/8th of this was VA 10 alone). All numbers 1-28 were authorized by the General Assembly in 1918.
By the end of 1922, the state highway system was expanding to be more than through routes to include spurs to towns. The first one I found was VA 10Y in October 1922. This was followed by several more spur routes off routes 7-12, such as 7X. Logically the number of spurs became such that a numerical system was needed to incorporate them.
The spur system
In August 1923, three digit spurs were introduced to Virginia. In the process, Virginia went through its first mass renumbering. Routes 1-8 became 31-38. Route 9 was split into 29, 30, and 39. Routes 40 and 41 were also created as main through-type routes. The assignment of 3 digit numbers in this system was very structured. The third digit was the nth spur off route (first two digits) x. For example VA 332 was spur 2 off VA 33. In my opinion this numbering strategy is what caused the single digit routes to go away, as VA 108 would be a spur off either VA 1 or VA 10, thus leaving fewer spur numbers available if VA 1 and VA 10 remained active.
Throughout the mid-1920’s, the system steadily increased its mileage and its coverage of Virginia. VA 10 ran out of spurs, yet more routes that connected only to VA 10 were created. Also, what happens when a route connected only to another 3-digit route? What to do? Make 4-digit routes! There were six 4-digit routes that I am aware of, starting with VA 1141 in 1923. It was the first spur off VA 114 (the system was really strict – numbers 118 and 119 were still available, but 1141 didn’t touch 11, so no proximity points like the systems in NC and SC were doing). Shortly after, there was 1010, 1011, 1012 and 1013. VA 100 (there were no 3 digit routes ending in 0) was not used for some reason that I do not understand before going to 4-digit routes. Lastly, we had VA 3111 as a short spur to Hanover. These were the first 4-digit primary routes in the country.
1927 brought the US Highway System. Virginia assigned these routes on the major highways through the Commonwealth. Virginia did not drop its multiplexes nor its coincidental state route numbers from the system at this time.
By the late 1920’s the number of routes was beginning to overwhelm the orderly system of spurs, such that there were going to be a lot of 4-digit routes. Thus, the state underwent a massive undertaking….
The Great Re-numbering of 1928
In August 1928, Virginia changed how it numbered its more minor state routes. Instead of spurs off a parent route, the state would assign 3-digit numbers sequentially as they were created. The system used the existing VDOT Districts (just like today except today’s District 9 was part of District 7 then). District 1 (Bristol) started at 100 and assigned numbers up to 129; District 2 (Salem) used 200-219; District 3 (Lynchburg) used 300-317. I think you get the picture. This eliminated all 4-digit numbers and created 3-digit numbers up into the 800’s. The highest number eventually became 845.
It so happens that some of the 1923-27 spur routes already fit into this new way of assigning routes, such as VA 107, VA 124, and VA 221. They were re-numbered anyway.
What happened to the 2-digit routes? Basically, nothing. Some new numbers were added in 1928, from 42-55 and up to 59 by 1932. These routes often crossed district lines (3-digit routes almost never crossed a district line) and were generally longer than the 3-digit routes.
In 1929, multiplexed state routes with a US Route became secret in that they were taken off maps, but remained in the CTB Minutes as the primary reference for the roads themselves.
The first ALT routes are mentioned in the 1931 CTB minutes (13A and 39A). Virginia even had 37E and 37W for a brief period in the early 1930s.
Y-routes the way that we think of them now appeared in 1931 (39Y Newport News) with the last new one created (43Y) in 1979. A number of them still exist into 2020.
Over the next few years, the number of routes grew (though not at such a fast clip as in the 1928-29 timeframe). However, there was a need for a more unified secondary route system in the state. Right then, there were some numbered “County Routes,” but there was no cohesion between counties. Thus the state did the unthinkable…..
The Great Re-numbering of 1933…(the modern system)
In July 1933, Virginia again renumbered ALL of its 3-digit routes (there were over 200 of them this time). They did this because the Secondary system we are familiar with today was born. This required that all numbers 600 and up be reserved for secondary routes. The mystery is that they could have just renumbered those 100 or so that were above 600 instead of every last one of them. But renumber them they did.
Virginia kept the idea that the Districts generally be the basis for the numbering. Only this time, District 1 started at 59 (forcing the 1932 VA 59 to be renumbered) and proceeded to 98 (with one exception). District 2 was 100-124. District 3 was 125-143, 150-152 plus 86 (weird) and 283; District 4 was 144-149, 153-163, 197; District 5 was 164-196; District 6 was 198-229; District 7 was 230-282.
In July 1933 Virginia also eliminated both the multiplexes (secret after 1928) with the US Routes, as well as coincidence numberings. They also reintroduced the single numbered routes again, which often replaced these US Route numbering problems. The eliminated multiplex numbers that were not also coincidence with another US Route in Virginia were recycled in 1933 as well (e.g. VA 31, VA 37, etc.).
July 1933 also introduced us to the concept of the US Route extension, where a state route would continue on past the terminus of a US Route and carry its number along. An early example was today’s VA 311.
July 1933 also introduced us to the idea of numbering many state facility driveways. This had been approved in 1932 but no numbers had been assigned until about 1937. These numbers were all >300, though not all-inclusive.
In the years 1932-35 several more US Routes appeared to bolster the US Hwy mileage in Virginia. This created minor renumberings as they appeared.
As time went on, Virginia slowly added more state routes to its system, reaching a peak about 1941 in terms of the number of different routes existing. Starting in 1942, primary routes were eliminated based on low traffic counts. This process continued slowly up to the early 1950’s. As state facilities closed, their numbers would be moved to another facility whose roads the CTB agreed to maintain.
State Line Re-numbering of late 1940…
In late 1940, Virginia and North Carolina agreed to change their border crossings to be all the same numbers on each side. Virginia went a step further and matched its numbers with all its bordering states. Oddly, VA 75 was created in this, but TN 44 has never been any other number. Otherwise, for at least a few years, all Virginia routes at its borders matched its neighbors.
In 1956, the Interstate System was created. Virginia decided not to have coincidence numbers with these either, so this led to the….
Interstate Re-numbering of 1958.
The first actual “Business” designation appeared in 1958 on US 58 Business in Virginia Beach. Other bypass routes had been built, but these were assigned as “ALT” designations. New bypasses spawned new Business routes and the older ALT routes were changed over in the early 1970’s.
The first designated interstate number showed up in 1959 (I-95 only), but all interstates not numbered 77 were on the 1961 map.
In the mid-late 1960’s the Community College program blossomed, taking up the upper end of the 300’s, along with some state parks and prisons.
In 1981-82, some urban areas received state highway numbers for some of their routes as part of a street funding mechanism. These were numbered from 400-402, 420 (Alexandria); 403-406 (Norfolk); 407-411, 414 (Virginia Beach); 412 (Blacksburg); 413 (Danville); 415 (Hampton); 416-418 (Richmond).
1982 also brought the oddly numbered VA 598, an old alignment of US 21-52 approaching Bluefield.
In more recent years, a handful of short connector routes have been added, re-using some discarded numbers.
Also, the 21st century has brought an end to the Virginia Beach and Richmond 400-series routes.
The Virginia Department of Transportation has a brief page showing
historical highlights of the department. They also have a (3.7mb) PDF
History of Roads in Virginia, which offers a more detailed history of roads
Page last modified 14 July 2020
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