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Texas’ Farm to Market Road System

Texas’ Farm to Market Road System

Author: Melinda Luna PE

April 2024

Texas is unique in having a Farm to Market or Ranch to Market roadway system. In the United States, there was a need to connect farms to urban areas to assist the farmers in getting goods to market. There was an effort to build these roads from the national government to local county organizations who saw a benefit of having paved roads. In Missouri, a similar state-operated system of farm-to-market roads, called Missouri Supplemental routes utilizing a A or AA to designate roads. Iowa also has a system of Farm to market road, but the roads are under county oversight with funding coming from the state. Louisiana designates the farm to market routes with a C as A is a primary road and B is a secondary road. Ohio’s farm to market road system was started in 1939 but has only provided for a county road standard.

The Texas Farm to Market system commenced in 1936 with the construction of a road spanning from Mount Enterprise to Shiloh in Rusk County. Initially, this 5.8-mile stretch comprised a two-lane road. By January of 1937, the project was completed at a cost of $48,015.12 (equivalent to $1,034,745.84 in 2024). Subsequently, in 1939, this road was designated as SH 315. While the Department of Highways was responsible for the construction of several roads, others were also built under the Works Progress Administration.

The Colson-Briscoe Act of 1949 earmarked $15 million from the Texas General Fund for the development of Farm to Market roads. Esther Colson and Dolph Briscoe collaborated to ensure the passage of this act, leading to a doubling of paved road mileage in Texas by 1951. Ms. Colson, who served as a Representative for District 27 from 1939 to 1948, advocated for legislation aimed at enhancing and financing juvenile corrections, education, and public roads, particularly in rural areas. She achieved a significant milestone as the first woman to successfully navigate a constitutional amendment through the legislature and secure approval by Texas citizens. Her 1946 bill guaranteed that road-use taxes would be allocated exclusively to the highway department for road construction.

Despite road signs indicating “Farm Road” and “Ranch Road,” the official designation is “Farm to Market” and “Ranch to Market,” except for Ranch Road 1, which stands as the sole formally designated Ranch Road in the state. Ranch Road 1 runs parallel to the Pedernales River, adjacent to the former ranch residence of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Another noteworthy designation is NASA 1, encircling the Mission Control Center in Houston.

In the mid-1990s, there was a push to rename Farm to Market roads in areas where urbanization had taken place to “Urban Roads.” However, this proposal did not gain widespread support, and the Farm to Market designation remained unchanged.

The FM system primarily comprises two-lane roads, although certain segments may have additional lanes. Engineering standards were initially outlined in 1940 with the establishment of the “1940 Policy on Geometric Highway Types.” These standards were primarily influenced by considerations such as costs and the availability of right-of-way. The guidance provided recommendations on aspects like guardrails, side slopes, and shoulder widths, but did not include directives on clear zone concepts. Over the years, various other guidelines were introduced, but today, the primary guidance for FM roads in Texas can be found in the TxDOT Roadway Design Manual, accessible online.

These routes are identified by rectangular signs displaying “Farm Road,” the shape of Texas, and the numerical designation. These signs are commonly used as home decorations to commemorate milestones such as graduation or other significant events. The FM system comprises a total of 3,550 designated routes, including 3,370 FM and 180 RM roads. Collectively, these roads account for half of the total road mileage in Texas today.