Musical highways, also called musical roads, singing roads, rhythmic roadways, melody roads and even humming highways, do more than just make music when cars drive over them. These cool musical roads are where cars can get their groove on when driving on these musical roads, there’s a secret to getting to hear the music!
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Musical Highways – Where Cars Can Make Music While Driving!
Musical highways aren’t a new thing, even across the globe. These musical road tunes have been around for a few decades. In fact, there’s three right here in the United States. But, the United States isn’t the only country that has these so-called musical roads. Globally, there’s about 10 other countries that have musical roads.
How do they make Musical Highways?
It takes a lot of engineering know-how to construct a road that ‘makes music’ when you drive on them.
Now, no matter what kind of driver you are, you’ve no doubt experienced driving over those rumble strips on the sides of the roads and highways. Those rumble strips, also called wake up bumps, are patches of short grooved patches impressed into the roadway surface. Or, they may be specially spaced small Botts dots or road turtles. Their purpose is to keep drivers from crossing the yellow line or going off the side of the roadways by alerting them through tire vibration noise.
But also, musical highways have another intent. Those pavement grooves or rumble strips are installed on road surfaces to help reduce skidding or hydroplaning on wet road surfaces. Often you may encounter these grooved sections on roads that have a history of many wet weather crashes or high collision ratings.
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What actually makes the musical sound?
Road engineers apply more math and engineering ingenuity to create musical roads. The pavement grooves on musical roads are designed and spaced just a bit differently than regular rumble strips.
Each musical note is produced by varying the spacing of rumble strips on the road. For example, an E note requires a frequency of around 330 vibrations a second. I know that sounds like a whole bunch of rocket surgery. This NatGeo video explains how they make musical roads so much better than I could.
Where can I find Musical Highways in America?
Attraction Location: 3187 W Ave G, Lancaster, CA 93536
America’s first musical road is in Lancaster, California. According to Destination Lancaster CA, it’s located between 30th and 40th Street West on Avenue G. The musical road was created as part of an advertising stint for Honda.
After word got out (the commercial), the musical road became quite popular. The excitement of such project would draw drivers as far as the state line and even beyond to this location to “drive and play”.
This singing road has unique rumble strips that have grooves spaced methodically to produce a different pitch than other grooves. Thus, when a motor vehicle drives over the certain stretch of road at 55mph, the tires would produce a musical rendition of the William Tell Overture finale.
However, that stretch of the musical highway was put on silent. Local residents in the area of the stretch of the musical road complained about the influx of traffic and constant noise. Some Lancaster residents who live nearby filed a petition to muffle the music attraction (or distraction?) and pave over the music-making grooves.
But, it didn’t end there. Other petitioners in favor of the singing road approached the city to relocate the attraction to a more remote area. And there it remains, just put your car in drive, head out to Avenue G and make your own road tunes where the rubber meets the road.
Tijeras, New Mexico
Attraction Location: Old Route 66 Eastbound
Just outside of Tijeras, New Mexico, there’s a stretch of old Route 66 (eastbound) where your car tires can play America the Beautiful. To hear the patriotic tune, you have to drive 45 miles per hour. The 1300 foot long musical highway was created collaboratively by the New Mexico Department of Transportation and National Geographic in 2014.
Auburn University – Auburn, Alabama
Attraction Location: South Donahue Drive off exit 51
Who would have known that Auburn University in Alabama has their own musical road! Also known as War Eagle Road, this stretch of singing rumble strips is located on South Donahue Drive. But, in order to hear the Auburn fight song, drivers need to slow down to 35 miles per hour.
According to Auburn University’s The Newsroom, this road project didn’t come without its’ challenges when constructing War Eagle Road. “It was an undertaking that involved a lot of complex math,” Auburn Engineering alum Tim Arnold admitted. It took a lot of patience and persistence. But, the end game is to provide the Auburn University students, faculty and alumni their own attraction.
Arnold’s idea was to have the cars make music as it would drive over the bumps. It’s the same idea as that same vibration a guitar string makes when playing a musical note. The whole engineering behind the musical road project required a lot of math and understanding the science of sound frequency.
But, Arnold certainly didn’t produce this musical road project solo. First, he had to petition the University and reign in support of Auburn University’s Dean of Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. After approval, he put together an amazing team of faculty and fellow students to, quite literally, ‘make music’ on the road. It took several with backgrounds in engineering specialties in chemical, mechanical, polymers and even aerospace.
Now that Auburn University has its’ own claim to having one of the only musical roads in the United States, Engineer Arnold is working on another road on campus that would play “Glory Glory to Ole Auburn” for a section on College Street coming in from Highway 280.
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International Musical Roads
Musical roads aren’t just in the United States. In fact, there are several other countries that also have their own music highways or singing roads. And, there’s actually one country that has 30 musical roads!
The Netherlands Singing Road
The Netherlands first and only singing road was installed in Frieslland near the village of Jelsum. You had to drive at 60mph to hear the Provincial Anthem. However, it didn’t take long or the Netherlands musical road to be removed in 2018 because the area residents quickly grew tired and complained of the musical tune. They responded quite vocally that the constant noise was driving them bonkers because motorists would drive faster to see if the music sounded differently.
Created in 1995, Denmark calls their musical highway in Gylling, an “Asphaltophone”. Similar to Botts’ dots, their asphaltophone has raised pavement markers instead of grooves in the road. These markers are much like the single square reflectors on roads we see here in the United States. As a motor vehicle drives over the markers, the vibration from the wheels produce the sound of music; in their case, an arpeggio.
South Korea’s Singing Road
South Korea’s singing road is located just south of Seoul in Anyang. This musical road distraction was actually designed to keep motorists alert and from falling asleep. Ironically hilarious though, the road engineers designed their musical highway to play the soothing lullaby, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.
Japan’s Melody Roads
But, Japan reigns as the king of musical roads as they have more than 30 of them throughout the country. From love songs, ballads and even local folk tunes, they are very much a part of their roadway system. The locals call their musical highways “melody roads”.
Japan’s melody roads have colorful musical notes on the pavement to alert drivers before entering the roadside attraction. And, so drivers can prepare to enjoy their 30 seconds of musical entertainment. One of the most popular musical roads in Japan is on the way up to the famous Mount Fuji; playing “Fuji no Yama”, a traditional song about the mountain.
Some of Japan’s other melody roads are located in Hokkaido, Shizuoka, Gunma and Wakayama regions of the island country. What’s cool is the road engineers have upped the ante in creating more higher-tech highway tunes by installing different rumble strips that both, the left and right side, tires can drive over creating a polyphonic soundtrack.
Final thoughts on musical roads
After reading about all these musical roads, doesn’t it make you want to get in your car and go drive on them all. And, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a worldwide passport where you can get a cancellation stamp of every musical road you drive over?
So, next time you’re anywhere near these incredible engineering marvel musical roads, drive on over to make your own road tunes.
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