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In my part of the world, we refer to highways without any article. So we drive on "Highway 64", or "Interstate 64", or "I-64". But when I go to California, they say "The 101". Is there any explanation for this difference?

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The best analogy I could come up with for the name of a highway is a river. And we use the definite article with most river names: "The Mississippi River", "The Hudson", etc. So perhaps it's the lack of definite article in the highway names that's the odd usage. –  booch Mar 10 '11 at 2:59
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It may be that the "The" in The 101 refers to the celebrity of that particular road. I couldn't tell you what state I-64 was in without Google, but I could easily place "The" 101. I imagine there are other similar, but more localized, instances of this sort around the world. –  HaL Mar 10 '11 at 3:25
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@HaL, except that Californians use "the" with all numbered roads, not just the iconic ones. –  Marthaª Mar 10 '11 at 17:49
    
Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/6514/… –  Marthaª Mar 10 '11 at 17:55
    
Interesting point. Thanks for the clarification. –  HaL Mar 10 '11 at 19:09
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4 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

It's a regional variation. In California, where I grew up, it was "take the 101 north", "get on the 405", and so on. In Pennsylvania, where I now live, it's "take 202 north", "get on I-95", and so forth. Note that this only applies to numbered roads, really -- in both places, named roads get the article: "the Schuylkill", "the Hollywood freeway", "the Blue Route", "the Pacific Coast highway".

I don't know where the dividing line is for the different usages, nor do I know what they do in other English-speaking countries.

My husband reports that local usage in Indiana (where he lived for a time) does not use the definite article on numbered roads. Friends who lived in Florida report the same thing.

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+1 definitely regional - Chicago (Route 59 or 59) - Southern Ontario (Highway 401 or frequently the 401) –  RD1 Mar 10 '11 at 4:23
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According to Wikipedia, this name for U.S. Route 101 is localized in southern California. Apparently this way of naming highways is a common phenomenon in Los Angeles. More common in the States are affectionate nicknames for highways without using their route numbers. Some examples from the Boston, Massachusetts area are, The Pike and The Artery (pronounced Ah-taree).

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+1 for noting that it is localized to southern California. Northern Californians don't do this. –  Nate Eldredge Mar 10 at 0:28
    
Even in other locales that have things like “The XYZ Expressway/Freeway”, the definite article is dropped. In the Dallas area, people telling you to take Central Expressway just tell you to take Central; similarly for George Bush and LBJ. The only exceptions that come to mind is that “the XYZ Tollway” always keeps its article anywhere I’ve seen it used, but that’s because it turns into “the Tollway”, not into XYZ. People resent tolls. –  tchrist Mar 11 at 3:14
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It's called "the 101" because that's short for "the 101 Freeway", which is its real name.

Here's how the L.A. Times refers to it:

The driver of a big rig that slammed into the center divider of the 101 Freeway in Studio City during rush hour Tuesday morning was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, the California Highway Patrol said. [Emphasis added]

By the way, the 101 is also called the Pacific Highway in some parts of California.

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In Los Angeles, the 101 is the Ventura freeway or the Hollywood freeway. (It changes at the intersection with the 134. I think. My memory is getting fuzzy.) And the use of the article is by no means restricted to the 101: every numbered road gets the definite article. It's "the 5", not "I-5". –  JPmiaou Mar 10 '11 at 4:07
    
Actually, it's a little more complicated than that. The "Hollywood Freeway" follows the 170 from its junction with the 5 in San Fernando until it runs into the 101 (same place as the junction with the 134, hence your confusion) and then follows the 101 until it disappears in the East LA Interchange. The "Ventura Freeway" follows the 101 from Ventura to the junction with the 134, then follows the 134 to Pasadena. Map –  MT_Head May 9 '12 at 8:49
    
I thought its real name was U.S Route 101, or US-101 for short. Still thinks so, actually. –  tchrist Jan 12 '13 at 3:48
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As far as I know, this is a usage fairly local to LA. (The other freeways get the same treatment: "the 405", for instance.)

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More correctly, it's "the parking lot known as the 405". :D –  Marthaª Apr 15 '11 at 17:12
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protected by RegDwigнt Mar 11 at 3:15

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