The Farm to Market Road System is the largest secondary highway system in the United States.
Established in Texas through legislation in 1949, Farm to Market Roads exist as secondary state highway transportation systems connecting rural or agricultural areas to towns and city centers. While the creation of the FM system was built through this legislation, its original roots date back to 1937 in Rusk County during the Great Depression and a longing to build west. Born from a desire to connect its sprawling metropolises, ranches, farms, and railroad hubs, the Farm to Market system has become an integral part of many Texans’ daily commute.
Today, Farm to Markets are abbreviated as FMs or as “Farm Road” on black and white signage with the state’s silhouette fixed in the center and cast in white. Though these road systems are designated as state or county roads, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) maintains the state’s FMs. Today, the FM system accounts for more than half of the mileage of TxDOT’s total road system.
Farm to Market Roads are usually of high quality, with one lane traveling in either direction. Some FMs have built out their lane numbers, transitioning into what some consider freeways. These roads are maintained and paved with varying speed limits ranging up to 75 mph. No Farm to Market Road number is used anywhere else within the state to designate another FM to ensure precision when traveling and designing logistical routes.
Though FM numbers never repeat, at one point in time they could run into or transition into their Urban Road counterparts which will hold the same route number. These Urban Roads, or URs, were an effort in 1995 to rename designated FM roads in locations which had outgrown their historical nomenclature. However, this work was eventually halted as state residents argued the term Farm to Market better fit Texas’ identity and the cost associated with changing the signage was not justified.
Though TxDOT quickly abandoned renaming FMs, some roads had already been changed to the UR designation, with newer roads in urban areas being designated URs once construction completed. On November 15, 2018, TxDOT repealed all 251 UR designations and transitioned them back to their original FM designation. New UR roads were also switched to the FM road designation by the department despite never actually being Farm to Markets. Today, Texas’ secondary road designation consists of the only Farm to Markets and Ranch to Markets which are similar to FMs with the abbreviation of RM and “Ranch Road” spelled out on signage.
Though the Texas system of Farm to Markets is unique to the state, a number of other states employee a similar system with a few minor changes. For instance, the bordering state of Louisiana consists of FMs based on an A-B-C system which designates FMs as C routes. Iowa also employs a nearly identical system to Texas but with their local county governments put in charge of its maintenance. Missouri employs a Farm to Market system that resembles a mix of Louisiana and Texas, but are called supplemental routes and use a double lettering system instead of a single one like Louisiana.
The system has expanded so rapidly that it is now the largest secondary highway system in the country, more than doubling the pace of the next largest system. In total, 3,550 routes are designated within the FM system, of which, 3,370 are FM and 180 being RM. Thanks in part to this ever-expanding highway system, Texas is home to more road signs than any other state, over 500,000 to be precise across its state-maintained highways.