In the United States, a farm-to-market road or ranch-to-market road (sometimes farm road or ranch road for short) is a state road or county road that connects rural or agricultural areas to market towns. These are better quality roads, usually a highway, that farmers and ranchers use to transport products to market towns or distribution centers.
Specifically, in the state of Texas, the terms Farm to Market Road and Ranch to Market Road indicate roadways that are part of the state's system of secondary and connecting routes, built and maintained by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Texas established this system in 1949 to improve access to rural areas. The system consists primarily of paved two-lane roads, though some segments have more lanes and some are even considered freeways.
These roads are signed with route markers that contain the words FARM ROAD or RANCH ROAD, but the formal name is Farm to Market Road and Ranch to Market Road (hence the abbreviation "FM" and "RM" on signs). The only road that explicitly uses the name Ranch Road is Ranch Road 1, which runs near the former ranch home of former President Lyndon B. Johnson.
As with other state-maintained highways in Texas, all Farm or Ranch to Market roads are paved. Speed limits along these roads vary, but may be as high as 75 mph in rural areas, such as in Andrews and Pecos counties (for example, along FM 1788, FM 1776, and FM 1053).
The first farm-to-market road in Texas was completed in January 1937 during the Great Depression. It connected Mount Enterprise and the former community of Shiloh in Rusk County. The route was 5.8 miles (9.3 km) long and was constructed at a cost of $48,015.12 ($869,000 today). This route is now part of Texas State Highway 315.
In 1945, the highway commission authorized a three-year pilot program for the construction of 7,205 miles (11,595 km) of farm-to-market roadways, with cost to be shared equally by the state and federal governments. As the program grew, efforts were made by legislators from rural areas, including State Senator Grady Hazlewood of Amarillo, to expand the farm-to-market road network in the late 1940s. The funding was to have come from an increase in the fuel tax, as proposed by State Senator Grover Morris in 1947; however, this measure was stymied by lobbyists, who supported such funding for arterial roads.
The popularity of the program and the perceived need to connect the vast, isolated central and western areas of the state prompted the passing of the Colson-Briscoe Act in 1949, sponsored by State Senator E. Neveille Colson and State Representative Dolph Briscoe. This legislation appropriated funding for the creation of an extensive system of secondary roads to provide access to the rural areas of the state and to allow farmers and ranchers to bring their goods to market, reserving a flat $15 million per year ($200 million today) plus 1 cent per gallon of gasoline sold in the state for local highway construction. In 1962, the Texas legislature inflation adjusted this amount to $23 million annually ($200 million today), through federal fund matching, and expanded the farm-to-market system from 35,000 to 50,000 miles (56,000 to 80,000 km). The system now accounts for over half of the mileage in the Texas Department of Transportation system.
Signs designating a Farm to Market or Ranch to Market road are a black square background containing a white shape of the state of Texas, with the words "FARM ROAD" or "RANCH ROAD" appearing in white text on the background and the route number in black text within the shape of Texas. Guide signs (the large green signs usually found along highways in the United States) designating these roads use a simple white rectangle with the abbreviation "F.M." or "R.M." and the route number appearing below the abbreviation in black text.
As a result of population growth and the expansion of urban areas, many Farm to Market and Ranch to Market roads that originally served rural areas now serve urban areas, sometimes exclusively. An effort was made to rename such roads "Urban Roads" on June 27, 1995, but residents opposed the effort, arguing that removing the "Farm" and "Ranch" from the designations was "un-Texan," and that the cost of changing signage was not justified. Other than a few route markers, such as on FM 1315 near Victoria, most signs were not changed, and TxDOT abandoned the idea to do so. However, though the Farm to Market and Ranch to Market designations remain in place on route signage, the state does continue to track these urban roads separately in its highway designation files. For example, the mileage of FM 544 in the Plano area was transferred from FM 544 to UR 544 in 1995. As part of the state highway system, Urban Roads are eligible for state maintenance; however, unlike rural Farm to Market and Ranch to Market roads, they do not receive state funding for expansion. On November 15, 2018, TXDOT changed all urban roads back to their previous FM and RM designations. The only part of the government or public that used "Urban Roads" from 1995-2018 was the internal highway database system used by TXDOT workers due to the 1995 order. The original 1995 order was fully rescinded by Minute Order 115371. Roads like UR 544 have been redesignated as FM 544 in the database.
Farm to Market and Ranch to Market roads are numbered as a single set of roads. There is not an FM and an RM with the same route number. Urban Roads are designated with the same route number as the FM or RM from which the mileage was transferred.
Route marker: FM 1719 route marker in Potter County (left) alongside route markers for U.S. 87 and U.S. 287 (right).
Guide sign: destination sign along Interstate 35 showing typical signage for a Farm to Market Road (right), along with signage for a State Highway Loop (left) and a State Highway (center) for comparison.
Texas currently has two signed business routes of Farm to Market Roads: Business RM 1431 in Burnet County, and Business FM 1960 in Harris County. These routes are former alignments that have been bypassed by newer routings. A third business Farm to Market Road, Business FM 1187 in Tarrant County was cancelled and given to the cities of Burleson and Crowley on October 27, 2016.
Louisiana has a farm-to-market road system. The 1955 renumbering renumbered all routes based on an A-B-C system of route classification: A is primary, B secondary, and C farm-to-market. All routes 300 through 1266 are classified C routes.
Pennsylvania has a “shadow” system of four digit state farm to market routes. The roads are named like county roads but are maintained by PennDOT. Small white signs, mounted low to the ground, can be found at intersections, identifying the route number and direction for maintenance crews.
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