by Guy Belleranti
When you take a long trip by car how much do you use the Interstate
Highway? My guess is probably quite a bit. In fact, many of us use the
interstate just to get around town.
However, prior to the latter 1950ís, road travel (especially
cross-country) was much more limited. It was in this decade that
President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized funding of the Interstate
Influenced by both the German Autobahn and by his 1919 two month long
experience of crossing the country as a young soldier on the historic
Lincoln Highway, Eisenhower was all for improving the nationís
highways. Momentum had been building for construction of
transcontinental superhighways for years. In fact, Eisenhower and
others had advocated for such a system as early as the 1930ís. While
governmental highway acts were passed in the late 30ís, 40ís and early
50ís, getting the necessary funding was always the stopping point.
Then, came June 29, 1956. On this day the Federal-Aid Highway Act of
1956 set things rolling. $25 billion was earmarked for the project, of
which 90% would be the Federal Government share. Over 41,000 miles
were planned, all with the following design standards:
a minimum of 2 lanes in each direction
a 12 foot width for each lane
right paved shoulders of 10 feet in width
design speeds of 50 to 70 mph
Now known as the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate
and Defense Highways, or more commonly ďThe Interstate Highway
SystemĒ, this was perhaps the largest public works project in history.
It was designed with a dual purpose in mind:
1 - to support automobiles and large trucks
2 - as its name implies, to support military and civil defense
operations, particularly troop movements.
While the initial cost estimate was $25 billion for building 41,012
miles of interstate over 12 years, both the costs and the necessary
construction time climbed. By the early part of this, the 21st,
century over 42,000 Interstate Highway miles had been completed at a
cost of $129 billion. And new construction continues, but now on a
much smaller scale.
An interesting aspect of the Interstate Highway System is the manner
in which the various highways are named. Major routes have either
one-digit or two-digit numbers. Auxiliary routes traveling around a
city, meanwhile, have three-digit numbers.
All north-south major routes are given odd numbers. The odd number
routes increase from west to east. Thus, I-5 runs along the west coast
and I-95 runs on the east coast.
All east-west major routes have even numbers. The even numbered routes
increase from south to north. Thus, I-10 is in the south and I-94 is
in the north.
Today it is hard to imagine the lower 48 states not having an
Interstate Highway System. While we can still drive many places via
scenic and narrower undivided two lane roads, the interstate provides
an additional, and usually quicker, option. Businesses use it for
shipping goods and services, people drive it on vacations, and it has
proved invaluable during natural disaster evacuations. Indeed, the
Interstate Highway System has changed the face of American
to Rewind the Fifties Home