I noticed an interesting anomaly as I returned from my recent trip down south. I considered a variety of paths before settling on my ultimate course. I nearly selected one of the other finalists but I turned it down at the last minute in favor of some back-roads through rolling countryside. Had I followed that original choice it would have taken me through a little slice of Georgia.
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This tiny sliver of Interstate 24 enters Georgia, arcs southward, and departs Georgia only 4.1 miles (6.6 kilometres) later. It makes perfect sense. The road engineers wanted to build their route through flatter terrain while avoiding the hills within the more direct path. That simplified their construction and pushed the road just below the Tennessee-Georgia border ever-so-briefly to create our interesting byproduct.
That got me thinking. What is the shortest segment of Interstate highway in the United States that traverses a state? In other words, one that enters and exits a state as a contiguous, numbered Interstate highway.
I’d been aware of other short segments that fit the general definition. I’ve driven Interstate 95 through Delaware (23.43 mi / 37.7 km) and New Hampshire (16.11 mi / 25.9 km) and I’d always thought both of those were really short. They are, but they pale in comparison to Georgia’s portion of I-24. I do give all due credit to Delaware and New Hampshire for both setting up toll booths along their minuscule borders to gouge travelers heading to final destinations involving neither of them. How nicely parasitic of them.
The Georgia example along I-24 is good but it’s not the best. We can find shorter. I know I’d have an amazing answer if the government ever sewed a 51st star on the U.S. flag by making Washington, DC a state. It’s one of my favorite geo-oddites.
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Interstate 495, the famous Capital Beltway, barely clips the waters of the District of Columbia as it crosses the Potomac River on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The total distance measures to 0.11 miles (0.18 km). Too bad DC isn’t a state. It doesn’t count.
I consulted the Federal Highway Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation. They provide a number of resources including their FHWA Route Log and Finder List. Now, if I were truly motivated I’d crosscheck every one of those short segments on a map to determine the shortest one that traversed a state, versus those that are simply short access spurs into cities. Maybe someone will peruse that list in detail some day and answer that question definitively. That won’t be me, at least not today.
I did check a couple of promising possibilities and stumbled across a really good one: Interstate 684 in Connecticut.
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I-684 leaves New York, clips Connecticut and returns to New York. That’s a stretch of only 1.4 miles (2.3 km), and it’s going to be a tough distance to beat. It’s so short that there isn’t even a Connecticut exit. Most drivers probably don’t even realize they’ve left New York albeit very briefly.
I consulted Steve of the renowned Connecticut Museum Quest. He knows everything about everything in Connecticut. I do that from time-to-time to see if I can stump him with some totally obscure point of Connecticut geo-trivia. I failed as miserably as usual. Not only was he aware of the anomaly but he’s driven it. Multiple times.
He also offered Interstate 84 at the NJNYPA tripoint as an “honorable mention.” I drove this road and visited the New Jersey highpoint last summer, so I do have some basic familiarity with the area.
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The Interstate comes oh-so-close to clipping New Jersey, and if it did it would eclipse even the Washington, DC example. Sadly it falls just a few feet onto the New York side of the line.