At 3,300 miles, the Lincoln Highway is arguably the longest and most diverse road in the America’s Byways Collection, which includes many of our nation’s most historic and beautiful roadways. Like the Lincoln Highway, roads in the Byways Collection aren’t the main routes. Instead, they are the kind of roads travelers take when they yearn for a feeling that they’ve been someplace authentic and one-of-a-kind.
That’s what the Lincoln Highway is all about and that’s why it recently was designated as a National Scenic Byway.
The U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration announced the designation on Tuesday.
We in the Kearney area should be thrilled by the designation. Our community was, after all, a major point of interest when travelers began using the Lincoln Highway. In the 1920s and ’30s Kearney was known as the Midway City because we were exactly in the middle of the 3,300-mile route.
The Lincoln Highway traces to 1913 when the roadway’s promoters announced their highway would stretch across 11 states from New York City in the east to San Francisco in the west. The announcement of the route was a big deal because communities along the route knew it would become the first transcontinental highway — paved from one end to the other.
The Lincoln Highway was among the nation’s first large-scale highway projects. It came when states lacked the bureaucracies to plan and construct highways. Automakers and others associated with that industry conceived the Lincoln Highway idea and encouraged states along its route to build it. Americans bought autos and wanted to discover America, and they could do that on the Lincoln Highway.
The road later was renamed U.S. Highway 30, and service stations, motels, campgrounds and attractions sprang up. Later, alternate routes evolved. Eventually Interstate 80 nudged aside Highway 30 as the primary east-west route across Nebraska.
For travelers who want to get where they’re going rapidly, you can’t beat I-80. However, for travelers who want to make memories with their trip, you can’t beat Highway 30, where you still can experience the feel of the Lincoln Highway. On this road less traveled, travelers can stroll around old-fashioned town squares, visit museums and attractions, get a taste of local foods and, when the timing is right, experience events, such as the spectacular sandhill crane migration that’s about to begin in the Kearney and Grand Island areas.
Only one other Nebraska route — the Sandhills Scenic Byway along Highway 2 — is listed on the America’s Byways Collection. The Sandhills Byway stretches from Grand Island to Alliance and is a must-see.
To Nebraskans who want to learn more about their state’s history and attractions, we suggest setting aside a couple of days to explore the Lincoln Highway. If you like what you see, there’s another 2,800 miles of Lincoln Highway waiting to be explored.