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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 which traditionally served to connect rural or agricultural areas to market towns. These routes serve as a better quality road, usually a highway, which allows farmers and ranchers to transport their products to market towns and/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). This system was established in 1949 as a project to provide access to rural areas. The system consists primarily of paved, two-lane roads. Generally, roads found west of US 281 (or Interstate 35 in some locations) are designated Ranch to Market Roads, while those located east of US 281 are designated Farm to Market Roads, though there are exceptions to this naming system, such as RM 2588 in Henderson County in East Texas or FM 1215 in Reeves County West Texas. Some segments are even expressways, including a segment of FM 1764 (the Emmett F. Lowry Expressway between Interstate 45 and Texas City, Texas).
Although these roads are signed with route markers that contain the words "FARM ROAD" or "RANCH ROAD", the proper name is "Farm to Market Road" and "Ranch to Market Road" (hence the abbreviation "F.M." and "R.M." on guide sign assemblies). The only road to explicitly use the nomenclature "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/Ranch to Market roads are paved. Speeds along Farm/Ranch to Market 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, connecting 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. This route is now part of Texas State Highway 315. The first highway officially designated as FM 1 was authorized in 1941, connecting US 96 near Pineland to a sawmill belonging to the Temple Lumber Company.
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 roadway, with the 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 gasoline tax, as proposed by State Senator Grover Morris in 1947; however, this measure was stymied by lobbyists, who indicated that such funding should go to arterial routes. Nonetheless, 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 plus 1 cent per gallon of gasoline sold in the state for local highway construction. In 1962, the Texas legislature increased this amount to no less than $23 million annually, 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" in 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.
Farm to Market and Ranch to Market roads are numbered as a single set of roads; that is, there should not be an FM and an RM with the same route number, unless it crosses US 281. Urban Roads are designated with the same route number as the FM or RM from which the mileage was transferred.
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 three signed business routes of Farm to Market Roads: Business FM 1187 in Tarrant County, 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.
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