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Highway in the Atacama Desert, route on the Pan-American highway

The Longest Road In The World Spans 18 Countries

The longest road in the world, according to Guinness World Records, is the Pan-American Highway, which runs 19,000 miles through fourteen countries and connects to four more between North America and South America. Although there is a connection between both continents, due to the Darién Gap, the road is not driveable without an all-terrain vehicle. Therefore, this area is typically navigated by sea. The Darién Gap is a 100km gap between Panama and Columbia.

The longest road was meant to unite the Americas

The Pan-American Highway began as a plan for a railway to span the continents. The Pan-American Highway was built over 30 years after the failed attempt to create the intercontinental railway system. It took a world war, the birth of the automobile industry in the U.S., and the knowledge of the infrastructure required to get the autos from place to place before the American highway system could begin to snake its way south.
Even after 100 years of Pan-American relations, the road is still incomplete. Only unpaved trails and local roads cross the Darién Gap — about 60 miles of territory located between Panama and Colombia that remains unfinished.

The Pan-American Highway covers 30,000 kilometers (19,000 miles) and spans from southernmost South America to the Arctic Ocean. 

Predecessors justified the building of the Pan-American Highway during the 1930s and 1940s to advance economic and social development in Latin America, including automobile exports. Supporters wanted to foster inter-American harmony. 

The longest road in the world has a complicated history

This highway has an economic and political significance that has conflicting depictions in history. Eric Rutkow, a UCF assistant professor of history, found a footnote in a book in Central America which mentioned the 3,400 miles of road that stretches from Mexico to Panama as the United States’ largest global development project between the world wars. Rutknow authored the book, The Longest Line on the Map: The United States, the Pan-American Highway, and the Quest to Link the Americas. The book even made it to Oprah.com’s Book Club selection list.

Rutkow embarked on a journey that unveiled many unknown stories about the history of the Pan-American Highway. After 100 years of Pan-American relations, political influence, and global aspirations, the Darién Gap keeps the historical dream from being complete. 

Dangers of the Pan-American Highway

The highest points on the Costa Rican section of the Inter-American highway are called Cerro de la Muerte, or Mountain of Death, rising from 5,000 to 11,500 feet. At this altitude, overnight temperatures can dip below freezing, with a record low temperature of -21 degrees F or -6 degrees C. This section has been named one of the most dangerous roads in the world. 

The Pan-American Highway passes through many climates and can be dangerous to travel in a variety of places, especially during wet seasons. It has jungles, mountains, deserts, swamps, and glaciers. It is also riddled with drug cartels and potentially dangerous people. 

Additionally, there are wild animals, boulders, and dangerous road conditions. One might encounter dirt and gravel roads, as well as large potholes and unexpected terrain that can be a high-risk journey even for all-terrain vehicles. 

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The second-longest road in the world

Highway 1 in Australia is the second-longest road in the world and the longest national highway. It spans 14,500 kilometers (9,000 miles) and is the only route that reaches across all Australian states and the Northern Territory. It joins all of the mainland state capitals and Darwin.

It carries more than one million people per day. Although the Australian National Highway shares large sections of Highway 1, they are not the same road.

Compared to the longest road in the United States

US 20 is the longest highway or road in the US, that stretches from Boston, Massachusetts to Newport, Oregon, according to the Federal Highway Administration. At 3,365 miles long it is 5x times longer than SR-1 and without any stops would take over 50 hours to drive end to end, not counting rest-stops or activities. It’s a great road trip that I’ve taken several times, but it’s a long one for sure.

Hundreds of songs are written about the road, The Longest Road, The Loneliest Road, The Road to Nowhere, and so many more. Life is a journey and is an easy metaphor for traveling down a road that singers and songwriters have always loved to use. So if you are looking for a leisure Sunday jaunt or an epic road-trip adventure, driving SR-1 has it all, without even needing to leave the state.

 

Resources:
https://www.ucf.edu/news/history-professors-new-book-pan-american-highway-receives-national-praise/

https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2019/01/03/once-presidents-wanted-pan-american-highway-not-wall/G5elMy7Wu6yOcaD60L0MqN/story.html

https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2011/04/08/presidential-proclamation-pan-american-day-and-pan-american-week

https://www.ucf.edu/pegasus/pan-american-highway/

Pan American Highway map

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