Ask 2: Why do Houston freeways have multiple names?

Houston (Pixabay)

HOUSTONAt KPRC 2, we’re dedicated to keeping Houstonians informed. As part of our new Ask 2 series, the newsroom will answer your questions about all things Houston.

The question: “Why do Houston freeways have multiple names?”

The answer: A big thank you to Kimberly for asking a great question. The names for various freeways and toll roads around town do get confusing when people refer to them by different names. Oddly enough, though, one of the reasons they have multiple names is to cut down on confusion!

The main freeways that run into and out of downtown are identified by number and by their nickname. For instance, State Highway 288 is often called the South Freeway. In general, think of it this way: The freeway’s nickname indicates the place or direction to which a freeway is headed from downtown Houston. Since 288 takes people south of Houston, it’s called the south freeway. Here are other examples:

  • I-45 from Houston to Galveston is called the Gulf Freeway because it takes you to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • I-45 from Houston to Dallas is called the North Freeway because it takes you to north Texas.
  • U.S. 59 from Houston to the northeast toward Lufkin is called the Eastex Freeway because it takes drivers to east Texas.
  • U.S. 59 from Houston down the coast is called the Southwest Freeway because it takes drivers southwest from the city.
  • I-10 from Houston east toward Louisiana is called the East Freeway.
  • I-10 from Houston westward is called the Katy Freeway because it heads toward Katy.
  • State Highway 225 is called the La Porte Freeway because it runs between the 610 East Loop and the city of La Porte.
  • U.S. 290 outbound from the 610 West Loop is called the Northwest Freeway because it takes drivers northwest, toward College Station and, eventually, Austin.

If you’re already confused, just wait. There’s more. Within the past decade, U.S. 59 has also become known as Interstate 69, or I-69. The names are synonymous. They are both are technically correct, and you will see road signs with both numbers along this stretch of freeway. The I-69 moniker was added because the federal government intends to develop an I-69 corridor from Mexico all the way to Canada. That corridor includes the stretch of U.S. 59 through Metro Houston.

In addition to the main arteries inbound and outbound from Houston, there are also the “loop” freeways and tollways to consider. These include the Loop, the Beltway and the Grand Parkway, all of which form (or will eventually form, in the Grand Parkway’s case) concentric circles around Houston’s core.

IH 610 (Interstate Highway 610) is commonly called the 610 Loop or, simply, “The Loop”. It is the smallest and closest loop to downtown and is broken down into four sections: the North Loop, West Loop, South Loop and East Loop. Logically, each section is named for the side of town where it is located.

Beltway 8 can be a little confusing, especially to people not from Houston. It’s also called the Sam Houston Tollway. The 88 mile loop started as Beltway 8, but has transitioned to the Sam Houston Tollway as more and more of the loop has become a toll road. So, these two names are overlapping for essentially the same loop. Technically, though, the small sections of the loop that are not tolled are more accurately only called “Beltway 8”.

The newest loop addition to the Houston area, the outermost one, is the still-developing State Highway 99. It often goes by its nickname, the Grand Parkway. It is “Grand” because, when complete, it will have a 180 mile circumference and be the grandest of the three loops in size!

Freeway Names

Yes, the spiderweb of major freeways and tollways around Houston can be confusing. Many of the roads have multiple names that locals use interchangeably and that confuse visitors or new transplants regularly. Area colleges could probably offer degree programs in highway nomenclature! Hopefully, though, with an understanding of why the names have come into existence over the years, they’ll make a little more sense to people.

Do you have a burning H-Town-related question? Send it our way, and we will try to hunt down an answer.


About the Author:

Meteorologist, runner, triathlete and proud Houstonian.