Saturday, June 1, 2013

Commerce and the Interstate Highway System

It's amazing what a significant impact the date June 29, 1956, would have on our nation's history and prosperity. On this date, President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid-Highway Act. This act allowed 41,000 miles of highways to be built, which would connect the nation. This interstate highway system allowed for mobility that no other nation could rival. This increased mobility was great for commerce, as well. Trucking companies have huge amounts of freight that need to be transported. With this improved road system, truck drivers were able to deliver their freight in a more time efficient manner.

To begin, the interstate highway system has had a tremendous impact in regards to our nation's economic development and stability. As noted in The Best Investment a Nation Ever Made, by Wendell Cox and Jean Love (June, 1996).

  • "By increasing speed and expanding access, freight costs have been reduced substantially. Tractor-trailer operating costs have been estimated at 17 percent lower on interstate highways than other highways (Benefits of Interstate Highways (Washington, DC: United States Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 1983).
  • The interstate highway system made less expensive land more accessible to the nation's transportation system and encouraged development.
  • The travel time reliability of shipment by interstate highway has made "just in time" delivery more feasible, reducing warehousing costs and adding to manufacturing efficiency.
  • By broadening the geographical range and options of shoppers, the interstate highway system has increased retail competition, resulting in larger selections and lower consumer prices.
  • By improving inter-regional access, the interstate highway system has helped to create a genuinely national domestic market with companies able to supply their products to much larger geographical areas, and less expensively" (Cox and Love, 1996).

Each of the aforementioned bullets presented by Cox and Love (June, 1996) have had a tremendous effect on our nation's economy, infrastructure, job growth, etc. According to 1996 data reports, it was estimated that the interstate highway system was responsible for about $14 billion; in additional economic activity. It can be inferred with the increase in population over the years, that the interstate highway system is responsible for even more money in economic development and growth, in 2013.

As shown, it's very evident that the interstate highway system has had great impacts within our nation's structure and economy. However, its benefits to trucking companies and truck drivers individually, may be more subtle. Some ways in which the interstate highway system has benefits trucking companies and truck drivers include the following facets:

  1. More direct routes equate to time savings; thereby, reducing expenditures on freight transportation.
  2. The additional options offered by various routes allowed for great mobility amongst truck drivers. They are no longer tied to a single route.
  3. Since greater mobility allows for more opportunities, both for producer and consumer; it equates to job growth. More truck drivers were needed to keep up with the demand of transporting increased cargo across America.
  4. The interstate highway system also allowed for greater job freedom. Now, truck drivers could work from locations, which may otherwise be out of the way. By today's standards, for example, it's not unheard of for a truck driver to leave from Dayton Ohio, in the morning; drive a freight delivery to Flint, Michigan (approximately 6 hours); and back home for a late dinner. How? By simply hopping on I-75 North to get to Flint; and then on I-75 South, to go home. Very convenient!
  5. Lower retail prices have also come with the advent of the highway system. Retailers no longer have to rely on one delivery option. A retailer can now shop around for the best delivery price for their freight. Thereby, they can pass the savings onto their consumers.

However, while increased commerce is a definite benefit, the highway system does come with its flaws, as well. There's an obvious correlation between the following: increased population, rising gas prices, fossil fuel shortages, road repair expenditures, etc. Trucks require a great deal of fuel to transverse the country repeatedly. All of the mentioned weaknesses put a great deal of stress on our economy. To keep the interstate highway system an integral contributor to our nation's economic vitality, it must be allowed to develop and grow as our population grows. In fact, "if traffic congestion is permitted to worsen, then American consumers will pay a heavy toll, in higher prices due to higher shipping costs, jobs lost due to foreign competition, reduced employment opportunities, and less leisure time" (Cox and Love, 1996). Additionally, as noted in The Best Investment a Nation Ever Made, by Wendell Cox and Jean Love (June, 1996), the positive contributions regarding the interstate highway system and our economic development since its inception (up to 1996), can be seen in the chart below:

Benifits of the Interstate Highway System

(The Best Investment a Nation Ever Made, by Wendell Cox and Jean Love (June, 1996).

The final aspect of the highway system to be shown is the effect it's had on the movement of freight across the nation. An interesting notion on freight movement is the vast improvement of moving cargo by road, over the former rail system. Obviously, historically speaking, America's railways were the main mode of freight movement for quite some time. Economically, though, it wasn't very cost effective. In fact, with the advent of the interstate highway system, the movement of freight became more cost efficient. As noted in The Interstate Highway System Its Development, and Its Effects on the American Spatial, Economic and Cultural Landscape, by Andrew Armbruster (April, 2005), the given excel graph shows the economic improvement between the rail and road systems.

Freight Cost Chart

(Armbruster, 2005).

It is obviously clear of the vast impact the interstate highway system has had on our nation's economy and progression. One thing seems to ring clear in recent studies, however; the fact remains that as a country, we need to be willing to reinvest in our current highway system through repairs, improvements, and expansions. If we fail to do so, it could have dire economic consequences. However, since we are indeed a "nation on wheels", it seems likely that the necessary monies will be allocated to keep this great country and the truck drivers to keep it supplied with goods, at the forefront of a united highway system.


Armbruster, Andrew. The Interstate Highway System. Rep. N.p.: n.p., 1995. Web. 30 May 2013.

National Transportation Statistics 1996 (Washington, DC: United States Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 1996)

1994 Highway Statistics and National Transit Database 1994 (Washington, DC: United States Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, 1996).

Cox, Wendell, and Jean Love. "The Best Investment a Nation Ever Made." Public Purpose. N.p., June 1996. Web. 29 May 2013.

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