AH26? 10? 420?

Out on the road, you've probably noticed the seemingly random signs with numbers in the city and around the countryside. Of course, those signs and numbers aren't just there for show, but have you ever wondered what they were for?

If you're wondering about it, those are for the Philippine National Route Numbering System (RNS), and it's rather interesting.

Road Numbers: What do they mean?

Primary purpose

According to the Department of Public Works and Highways, the purpose of the RNS is 'to simplify and rationalize navigation along those National Roads'. Some may find that using the old name for a street is easier, and that's fine if you're from that particular locale, but it could be a source of confusion for those just driving through an area to distinguish certain road names. For instance: how many J.P. Rizal streets do you know of around the country?

The DPWH has three classifications for roads, namely National Primary, National Secondary, and National Tertiary.


The numbers you see aren't there by random, the DPWH actually has a systematic arrangement for that. These roads are prefixed with either the letter N (National) or E (Expressway), and come in two digits. It goes beyond that too as it is even classified as to how many cities the road passes through. That's just for the National Primary roads.

Road Numbers: What do they mean?

Our National Primary Roads

From N1 (Pan-Philippine Highway) to N11 (C.P Garcia), it designates a National Primary Road that connects three or more roads. From N51 (Santiago-Tuguegarao Road) to N82 (Mandaue–Mactan Road, Pajo–Basak–Marigondon Road, AC Cortes Avenue), those major roads connect two cities. That's a total of 42 National Primary Roads.

Secondary roads (and how to read the signs)

Secondary roads on the other hand have three digits. Again, those numbers aren't random. The first digit denotes the number of the primary road the said route is linked to.

So, how do you read it? Let's take N420 as an example, also known as the Tagaytay-Santa Rosa Road. With 4 being the first number, that means the Tagaytay-Santa Rosa Road stems from the N4 National Primary Road, which spans from Jose P. Laurel Highway (from N421, Tanauan-Talisay Road), all the way to P. Burgos Street in Batangas City.

There are hundreds more secondary roads in the country, spanning from Luzon, all the way to Mindanao.


AH26: The road that links them all

Besides the white and black signage you see on the road, you've (most likely) encountered the AH26 sign as well. It's different from the standard RNS with its blue color, so what makes it special?

AH26 is better known as the Pan-Philippine Highway and it spans from Laoag to Zamboanga City. The 'AH' means 'Asian Highway', meaning the Pan-Philippine Highway is part of the Asian Highway network. It is also known as N1 when using the local RNS standard as well. It covers over 3,000 kilometers worth of road and it brings motorists from one ferry port to another. In essence, AH26 (or N1) forms the backbone of the entire Philippine highway network, with the other National Primary Roads stemming from it.

Road Numbers: What do they mean? 

Just how big is our highway network?

As mentioned, there are 42 National Primary Roads in our highway system. But if we're talking about National Secondary Roads, there's approximately 325 in the country. With that, that's over 360 national highways covering well over 32,000 kilometers, and that doesn't include the National Tertiary Roads yet.

When it comes to our road network then, we're not lagging behind our neighbors. However, those thousands of kilometers aren't all what you would call developed. Not all of them are paved, nor are they in good condition.

Still, it's nice to know those seemingly random numbers you see on the side of the road serve a purpose. Credit where it's due, organizing, classifying and segratating over 360 highways and more than 32,000 kilometers of road is a daunting task, so kudos to those who took part in making this system, and making it work. With many thoroughfares and streets having the same name nationwide, it also clears up which 'J.P Rizal' road your taking thanks to these numbers.

The next time you see one of these signs, take a moment to realize just how vast our road network is, even if it doesn't always seem that way. Be it paved or unpaved, there's a lot of road to drive around in our country.

So, road trip anyone?