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Why Do Vehicles Ride The Rumble Strip on the Musical Highway in New Mexico

Back in the day, road-trippers made mixtapes to carry their favorite tunes on a cross-country journey. However, that’s no longer necessary now that state departments of transportation, the National Geographic Channel, and college alumni have created musical highways in the United States.

Drive through sections of California, New Mexico, and Alabama to hear tunes as you’ve never heard them before.

Let’s see how designers make them, what they sound like, and where you can find them.

What Is A Musical Highway?

A musical highway is a section of roadway that has a vibration and an audible rumble when driven over at a specific rate of speed. The creators designed them to play a tune.

Designers can select a pitch by placing rumble strips at differing distances, and people inside the vehicle and close to the area can hear the sounds they make.

What States Have Musical Highways?

Musical highways are in three locations within the United States. The first dates to 2008 in Lancaster, California, on Avenue K. However, after noise complaints from the surrounding neighborhood, workers paved the road. Within a month, the route returned, this time in an area with no neighbors to complain. The new highway is Avenue G.

The song it is supposed to replicate is the “William Tell Overture.” Still, a miscalculation in the length of each groove makes the song almost unrecognizable. However, the tempo bears a resemblance to the famous piece. Honda used the roadway in a commercial for their Civic automobile. Hence, the local name for this musical highway is the Civic Musical Road.

In 2014, designers made a musical highway on part of old Route 66 east of Albuquerque in Tijeras, New Mexico. The state Department of Transportation collaborated with the National Geographic Channel to create a roadway version of “America the Beautiful.” It was an effort to get drivers to slow down and drive the speed limit, and it worked for a time.

Today some of the rumble strips are paved over, and the signs announcing the musical roadway are gone. However, you can still hear much of it today.

In 2019, an alumnus of Auburn University’s School of Engineering left his college with a musical highway of the school fight song, “War Eagle.” It is only the first seven notes, but that’s all Auburn alumni need to hear of their battle cry for football games.

Tim Arnold designed a surface treatment to create the tune without damaging the roadway. The musical highway is on South Donahue Drive in Auburn, Alabama. Smith worked with the National Center for Asphalt Technology to install this graduation gift, and all signs point to success.

Woman dancing in camper van driving down highway
While cruising down Route 66, let the pavement sing to you on a musical highway.

Where Is The Road That Sings America The Beautiful?

“America the Beautiful” is on one of the country’s most beloved historic roadways, Route 66. The section for the song is in Tijeras, New Mexico, near Exit 170 on New Mexico Highway 333. It is part of the frontage road for the interstate, 17 miles east of Albuquerque off Interstate 40. The musical highway is about one-quarter mile long.

Pro Tip: While cruising down Route 66, make sure to do these 9 Best Things To Do on Route 66 in New Mexico.

How Does A Musical Road Work? 

A musical highway takes a fair amount of engineering to create. Designers start with rumble strips, like those on the highway’s edge, to warn drivers that they are venturing onto the shoulder. The strips for a musical interlude must be of the proper length to establish a tone.

They must also be at a specific distance from one another to create the tempo of the piece. 

Finally, the vehicle’s speed will tie the tone and tempo together to create the tune. Some recent projects on the New Mexico road covered some of the original rumble strips.

However, you can still hear “America the Beautiful.” The “William Tell Overture” in Lancaster sounds off-key. When they moved the musical highway to Avenue G, they ignored the length of the rumble strips to give the road its correct pitch or tune.

Woman driving car down highway
From America the Beautiful to the William Tell Overture, there are some awesome singing streets across the USA.

Why Is the Musical Highway in New Mexico Famous?

The Musical Highway, which plays “America the Beautiful,” is appropriately on The Mother Road. Drivers also know the road as America’s Main Street or Route 66. This 2,400-mile roadway extends from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California. It became so popular that rural towns began creating attractions to entice travelers to stop and stay. 

Route 66 connected the middle of the country with the west coast before the interstate highway syste. Once high-speed roadways became standard, the Mother Road became almost a thing of the past.

However, today there is a resurgence of drivers who enjoy the nostalgia of the roadway and design their vacations around visiting any attractions from the golden age of Route 66. The musical highway in Tijeras is on a piece of the route, and like many, it is a frontage road of the interstate that made the route passé.

Pro Tip: Make sure you don’t forget to pack these 7 Summer Road Trip Essentials!

Is The Musical Highway in New Mexico Worth Riding? 

Any chance to hear music on the road is worth chasing down, especially if you don’t have to make a mixtape. Even if the key is not quite right or a note is missing, it’s still an opportunity to be a part of something unique and special.

If you visit one of the musical highways in the US, consider yourself a performance artist. After all, the music would never be without your driving skills set at a perfect pitch of 45 mph!

What song would you use if you could design a musical highway? Tell us in the comments!

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