Utah State Highway Ref Tagging

How should Utah’s state highways be tagged? (ref=*)

  • UT 123 - Someone out of state would consider it a Utah state highway. This wiki page says UT. The vast majority of Utah’s highways are tagged this way.
  • SR 123 - The state of Utah refers to them as “state route” or “SR”. Requested by a couple of notes
  • SR-123 - This wiki page says it should have a hyphen.

As far as I know, physical signage doesn’t say either. Just the number in a beehive. (image)

Overpass Queries for stats

(counts in meters)

This discussion is probably better categorized in the US regional subforum: United States - OpenStreetMap Community Forum


Like most states, Utah doesn’t include any prefix on its state route shields. However, the format “SR-123”, with a hyphen, is the norm on signs in plain text and also in published documents. UDOT is very consistent in this matter, and I’m pretty sure that using “UT 123” would reliably mark you as an out-of-stater among longtime residents.

Cedar Breaks Road / SR-148 (148 in a beehive) Open to Brian Head; SR-148: Cedar Breaks Road Closed To Vehicles Over 26,000 G.V.W. 18 Miles Ahead

SR-92: Narrow Switchback Road Next 20 Miles, Not Recommended For Vehicles Over 20 Feet

Minutes To Park City Via SR-224: 10, Via SR-248: 12

Originally, the U.S. community tended to format ref=* on roadways according to the DOT’s preferred abbreviation, such as on signs, except that hyphens were replaced by spaces to match British tagging norms. State routes in Utah were tagged ref=SR *. However, some mappers preferred a uniform national format of ref=XY *, where XY is the state’s USPS abbreviation. Traditional GPS vendors such as Garmin and TomTom had long used the “XY-123” format. Some in the roadgeek community also prefer this format in writing, for consistency and to avoid having to clarify the state separately when remarking on new road construction or bragging about the roads they’ve traveled.

After the OSM-based MapQuest Open map was released in 2010, there was a push to institute postal abbreviations nationwide. At the time, MapQuest was the most prominent commercial user of OSM data in the U.S. Their renderer was the first to display realistic state route shields in each state, but to do so, it required each way ref=* to begin with the state’s postal abbreviation. By contrast, other data consumers such as Mapbox geocoded roads to distinguish between different states’ route networks.

Mappers in most states went along with the postal abbreviation format, but there were a few holdouts in some states with active local communities, especially Michigan and Ohio, based on real-world usage. (Indiana later went back to the “SR” format.) Tennessee and Virginia also distinguished their primary and secondary state route systems using the postal abbreviation and “SR”, respectively, but out-of-staters usually missed this nuance.

MapQuest Open was discontinued in 2016. By then, the U.S. community had reached a clear consensus that route relations are the preferred representation of a highway route, since the network=* tag on a route relation allows us to encode the route network without any ambiguity. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until 2022 that the OSM Americana project released the first viable reference implementation of realistic state route shields based on route relations. In the meantime, the MapQuest-influenced format has become entrenched in the database. Out-of-state mappers sometimes haphazardly insert postal abbreviations in states that don’t use them, thinking there was an oversight.

On the talk-us mailing list and OSMUS Slack, mappers have often argued that we should do more to encourage data consumers to choose route shields based on route relations instead of parsing way refs. In my opinion, an effective way to nudge data consumers would be to restore way refs that match real-world usage – e.g., ref=SR-* in Utah. This would make it clear that way refs are meant for human readability in plain text, not machine readability. Eventually, we could eliminate way refs altogether, but I think this approach would do more to communicate “deprecated” to mappers and data consumers than any documentation on the wiki ever could.


Thank you for that context! As you might guess (since I composed the two notes that Xvtn cites) I think the displayed thing in the openstreetmap.org map should be “State Route” and “SR,” whether that’s the name tag or the ref or short_name or other. That’s the terminology in Utah Code, and on street signage, and what UDOT always uses. In general, I don’t think OSM should make up different names for stuff (and I also agree with the more elegant rationale of the previous poster).

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Oh hi @keithalleman !

I have nothing to add other than that there’s stretches where a state route has street name signs like SR-24 or similar. In that case, and only in that case, I sometimes put what it says on the sign in the name tag but I don’t have a great heuristic when I do or don’t do this. And perhaps I shouldn’t do this?

Image from Mapillary


“SR 24” is either an abbreviated name, which some would write out as name=State Route 24, or it’s a route number, which belongs in ref=* rather than name=*. If you’d hesitate to put it in ref=* because of the UT prefix, I think that’s one more argument against the UT prefix.

I’ve been doing edits in Washington, ran into the same issue. All the signs here and listings on the WSDOT website use the SR prefix, but the roads are tagged with “WA”. Seems like the labels should match that format.


Sorry for the double reply, I just thought to try simulating some navigation with OSMAnd. The navigation instructions said to turn on to “WA XXX” which doesn’t match any real world signage. It makes more sense for the tags to match the real world names that are on the signs and state DOT websites.

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Some recent back-and-forth edits between “TX” and “SH” prompted a conversation about which one we should use going forward in Texas. If you think Washington would benefit from this kind of discussion too, a good first step would be to start a new topic and put together a few examples with links or photos.

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FYI I made a table to collect the results of all this discussion:
Feel free to update/edit as necessary.
User:SD Mapman/United States/State-Specific State Highway “ref” Tags - OpenStreetMap Wiki

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Good to have it collected! But what does “community accepted” mean? Perhaps a “current existing majority” column would be good too… I could add it tomorrow when I’m back at a computer.

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Fine by me, was just trying to make somewhere where we could dump the results of these discussions in one place.

Oh I use the local names as “name” all the time. I would never change the name tag for, like, State Street or 700 East to be “State Route NN.” But I put the “SR-NN” in the ref tag for those. My rule of thumb has been to make the name match what a traveler would most usefully want to know right as they were approaching the very thing being named.