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Interstate vs. Highway: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on December 2, 2023
Interstate is a road system connecting multiple states, often part of a national network. Highway is a main road, typically connecting major towns or regions, not necessarily spanning states.

Key Differences

An interstate is a highway system that crosses state lines and is part of a national network in the United States. Highways, on the other hand, are major roads that can be either state or nationally operated, but don't necessarily cross state boundaries.
The interstate system is designed for long-distance travel, often connecting major cities across states. Highways, while also used for long-distance travel, can be more localized, serving as main roads within a state or region.
Interstates are typically built to higher standards, with controlled access, multiple lanes, and no at-grade crossings. Highways can vary in design, from two-lane rural roads to multi-lane urban expressways, but may include at-grade crossings and traffic lights.
Funding for interstates comes predominantly from federal sources, reflecting their national scope. Highways, however, can be funded by state, local, or federal sources, depending on their significance and location.
Signage and numbering for interstates follow a standardized system across the U.S. Highways, in contrast, have more varied signage and numbering, which can change from state to state.

Comparison Chart


Crosses state lines, part of a national network.
Can be localized, within a state or region.


Controlled access, multiple lanes, no at-grade crossings.
Varies; can include at-grade crossings, traffic lights.


Primarily for long-distance, intercity travel.
Serves both long-distance and regional traffic.


Predominantly federally funded.
Funded by state, local, or federal sources.

Signage System

Standardized across the U.S.
Varies by state.

Interstate and Highway Definitions


A major highway in the U.S. crossing state boundaries.
The Interstate 95 runs from Maine to Florida.


A main public road, especially one connecting major towns or cities.
The highway leads directly to the downtown area.


A controlled-access highway.
The interstate is free from traffic lights and intersections.


A road managed by state or local authorities.
The highway maintenance is scheduled for next month.


Part of the U.S. Interstate Highway System.
Interstate 10 connects the east and west coasts.


Any public road or thoroughfare.
The old highway has been repaved for smoother travel.


A road designed for high-speed, long-distance travel.
They drove on the interstate to reach the neighboring state quickly.


A road with higher traffic capacity or speed limit.
The new highway has reduced commute times significantly.


A federally funded highway network.
The construction of the new interstate improved regional connectivity.


A major route in a transportation network.
The coastal highway offers breathtaking views.


Involving, existing between, or connecting two or more states.


A main public road, especially one connecting towns and cities.


One of a national system of expressways connecting major population centers in the United States.


(historical) A road that is higher than the surrounding land and has drainage ditches at the sides


Of, or relating to two or more states.


A main public road, especially a multi-lane, high-speed thoroughfare.


Crossing states (usually provincial state, but also e.g. multinational sense).
The truck driver drove interstate to unload.


(figurative) A way; a path that leads to a certain destiny
You're on a highway to greatness.


(US) A freeway that is part of the Interstate Highway System.


Any public road for vehicular traffic.


Pertaining to the mutual relations of States; existing between, or including, different States; as, interstate commerce.


(computing) bus


An interstate highway, part of the United States Interstate Highway system.


To travel on a highway


Involving and relating to the mutual relations of states especially of the US;
Interstate Highway Commission
Interstate highways
Interstate Commerce Commission
Interstate commerce


A road or way open to the use of the public, especially a paved main road or thoroughfare between towns; in the latter sense it contrasts with local street; as, on the highways and byways.


A major road for any form of motor transport


What is an interstate?

A road network connecting multiple states in the U.S., part of a national system.

What distinguishes an interstate from a regular highway?

Interstates cross state lines and are part of a national network, often with controlled access.

Do interstates have tolls?

Some do, but many are toll-free.

What is a highway?

A major road, often connecting towns or regions, not necessarily spanning states.

Are all interstates highways?

Yes, all interstates are a type of highway, but with specific characteristics.

How are interstates numbered?

They follow a standardized numbering system based on direction and location.

Who funds the interstate system?

Primarily the federal government.

Who funds highways?

Highways are funded by state, local, or federal sources.

Are interstates safer than highways?

Typically, due to their design standards, interstates are considered safer.

Do all interstates connect cities?

Most do, as they are designed for long-distance travel.

Can highways be within a single city?

Yes, highways can serve as major roads within a city.

Can a highway be an interstate?

Yes, if it crosses state lines and meets interstate standards.

How are highways numbered?

Their numbering can vary by state and region.

Is it faster to travel on an interstate?

Often yes, due to higher speed limits and controlled access.

Are interstates always multi-lane?

Generally, they are designed with multiple lanes for high-speed travel.

Can anyone use the interstate?

Yes, unless restrictions apply, like for certain commercial vehicles.

Can highways have single lanes?

Yes, especially in rural or less populated areas.

Do highways go through towns?

Many do, connecting and passing through various towns.

Are highways always paved?

Most are, but there are exceptions, especially in remote areas.

Are highways toll roads?

Some highways are toll roads, but not all.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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