A Very Long, Straight Road
Hickson to Streeter, North Dakota
There's a well-worn riddle in the Peace Garden State:
Q: How do you turn on the cruise control in North Dakota?
A: Jump in the back seat.
There are a lot of very straight roads up here. One in particular, North Dakota Highway 46, is supposedly the straightest of them all -- plumb line straight -- the longest straight road in America. It stretches across 123 miles of north Dakota prairie from Hwy 30 in the west to a nameless county blacktop just past I-29 in the east, a steady 20 miles south of I-94.
Every "straight" road shifts a little bit here and there, bending just a bit around a rock or a tree or making an adjustment to cross a bridge. So does Hwy 46. But this road has a reputation, and it should be held to a higher standard. With this in mind, the best that offers -- its longest straight-as-an-arrow, lock your steering wheel and take a nap stretch -- extends nearly 31 miles, from Gackle to Beaver Creek. Compared to 123 miles that doesn't sound like much, but it's still impressive, especially for a two-lane blacktop.
North Dakota boosters won't like to hear it, but there is one stretch of straight American road that's even longer than ND 46 -- Interstate 80 across the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. It runs bullet-straight east from just past exit 4 almost to mile marker 40, where it makes a slight jog. That's 35 miles. But when you're rocketing across a featureless death zone at 85 mph, it hardly seems that far. Much better to cruise at 65 on Hwy 46, and savor the trajectory.
Note: This kind of civic claim brings out the best map zealots, and we've heard from two -- RVing Instructors Dave and Sandy Baleria. Their map software indicates that this stretch of ND 46 is only 27 miles long. Our mistake may have been actually driving this highway, when the car odometer clocked nearly 31 miles of straightness. Which is more trustworthy: the analog vehicle on the ground or the digital satellite in the sky? The "America's Longest Straight Road" assertion was in the official North Dakota tourism literature at the time.