Back in the 1980’s, there was a big push to switch the US to the metric system (an initiative I vaguely remember). Way down in southern Arizona, the politicos back then took the initiative to switch over Highway 19 south of Tuscon to the metric system in anticipation of the country’s full conversion. Yes, we’re all still waiting for the country to switch over and 30+ years on, this stretch of highway is the only road in the US that is measured with the metric system.
That made sense in 1980, when I-19’s signs first went up and when U.S. was near the peak of its flirtation with the metric system. Five years earlier, President Ford had signed the Metric Conversion Act, declaring the metric system “the preferred system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce” and establishing United States Metric Board to guide the conversion. Schoolchildren dutifully learned their kilograms and centimeters.
But the Metric Conversion Act was only voluntary, and there was far too much inertia to change every single label in the country voluntarily. Reagan disbanded the Metric Board in 1982. Instead of leading the charge into brave new metric system, Arizona’s highway is a reminder of a failed experiment.
Ironically, Arizona is now trying to switch the road back to miles however it is stuck in political red tape. Ah, progress!