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In comparison to some parts of the Western world, the United States relies more heavily on its roads both for commercial and personal transit. Car ownership is nearly universal except in the largest cities where extensive mass transit and railroad systems have been built.

With the development of the extensive Eisenhower Interstate Highway System in the 1950s, both long-distance trips and daily the commute were mostly by private automobile. This network was designed to exacting federal standards in order to receive federal funding. The system, as of 2004, has a total length of 46,837 miles (75,376 km),making it both the largest controlled-access highway system in the world and the largest public works project in US history.

The Interstate system joined an existing National Highway System (a designation created for the legacy highway network in 1995), comprising 160,000 miles (256,000 kilometers) of roadway, a fraction of the total mileage of roads. The Interstate system serves nearly all major U.S. cities, often through the downtown areas (a point which triggered freeway and expressway revolts in the 1960s and 1970s). The distribution of virtually all goods and services involves Interstate highways at some point. Residents of American cities commonly use urban Interstates to travel to their places of work. The vast majority of long-distance travel, whether for vacation or business, is by the national road network; of these trips, about one-third (by the total number of miles driven in the country in 2003) utilize the Interstate system.

In addition to the routes of the Interstate system, there are those of the US Highway system, not to be confused with the above mentioned National Highway System. These networks are further supplemented by State Highways, and the local roads of counties, municipal streets, and federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Altogether there are more than 4,209,835 km of paved roads in the U.S. (including 75,040 km of limited-access roads), and 2,255,964 km of unpaved roads.

All highways are maintained by state governments, although they receive federal aid to build and maintain freeways signed as part of the 46,000 mile (75,000 km) nationwide Interstate highway network. A large number of expressways are actually government or privately operated toll roads in many East Coast and Midwestern states. West Coast freeways are generally free to users ("freeways", no toll charged per use), although since the 1990s there have been some small experiments with toll roads operated by private companies.