Those of you who drive on I-10 or I-45 know the feeling of relief when you sail by your exit, and know you have a U-turn lane waiting for you at the next exit to turn around and jump back on the highway.
An in-depth report by Wired takes a look into how these “Texas turnarounds” located at every interstate exit in the state came to be, and they’re closely tied to the history of the interstate highway system.
Before the turnarounds, the frontage system was built under Dewitt Greer, the Texas Highway Department’s head engineer from 1940-1967. The interstate sat closely by many landowners’ homes, and Texas law guarantees landowners access to nearby roads. To connect people to the interstate without causing undue congestion, Greer had the frontage system built wide, and one-way in both directions.
“As far as I know, Texas is the only state with continuous frontage roads along all interstate highways,” Roger Allen Polson, co-author of the book Miles and Miles of Texas, said in an interview. “It’s brilliant, and expensive, but it made landowners happy.”
But that created another problem. People would need to find an underpass, then make a couple of awkward and potentially dangerous left turns to get to the other side of the highway. That could cause accidents, injuries and clog up traffic.
The Texas turnaround was the solution. According to Wired, the innovation probably started in rural parts of Texas and made its way into cities along with development.
“Turnarounds may have started as a convenience for local farmers or fishermen to use the lost space under the bridge near an abutment to return home,” said TxDOT engineer Jane Lundquist.
It isn’t clear exactly who thought up the idea for a protected u-turn lane, but it propagated across the entire state, and today lost Texans everywhere are thankful for it.