Why does Kansas City say ‘Highway’ after the number?

Photo of highway signs

Four direction signs? Typical for KC. | Photo by @em1.sam

Table of Contents

The question

Why do people in KC or MO in general refer to roads by their number first, whereas everywhere else I’ve been refers to the type of road first? For example: ‘50 Highway’ versus ‘Highway 50?’” — Reader Shari M.

If you’ve lived here your whole life, this might be all you know. It’s kind of like an unwritten rule. But for newcomers or folks with visiting friends, this switcheroo might be a little confusing. Enter: our attempt at an answer.

Some answers

At first, this question presented mysterious results. Some of our favorites:

  • “I’ve never heard it anywhere else in MO.” (Reddit)
  • “I did a semester-long research project on the history of the highway and interstate system in Missouri [...] I couldn’t find a definitive answer.” (City-Data.com)

Even library historians didn’t have a definitive answer. Jeremy Drouin, with the KC Public Library’s Missouri Valley Special Collections, told us this question makes the rounds.

“This same question was submitted to the department a couple of years back, and we didn’t have an answer.” He suggested a linguistics professor.

We also tweeted at the KC branch of the Missouri Department of Transportationyou know, people who know roads — and they had an idea.

“We believe some folks like saying the number first, because it stands out more and flows off the tongue easier. Either way it’s correct.” — @MoDOT_KC

Our conclusion

MoDOT’s answer alone is pretty satisfying. However, we’re nerdy and nosy, so we pressed on. One Reddit user had this to say.

“Maybe it’s because we have a ton of highways here…” (Reddit)

That got us thinking about how many freeways there truly are in KC. Answer: a lot.

DYK? Kansas City has one of the highest number of lane miles per capita compared to any other major metros in the country. Our calculations — using the latest numbers from the 2020 US Census + info from the Department of Transportation — puts the metro at 1.01 freeway lane miles per person (read: we have more miles of road than people). That’s down from 2012, when we were ~1.29, but it’s still more than most.

With so many numbers to keep track of, many residents simply say the number.

“A lot of people simply say “take 435", “get on 70". Therefore if you do add the word highway to it, then you’re saying the more important part first. The meat of the sentence is up front, instead of hiding it behind fluff.” (Reddit)

This is hardly definitive proof — but is proof even possible? You tell us. Email us why you think KC highway numbers come first, and we’ll feature some of your answers in our newsletter.

More from KCtoday