Thursday, January 22, 2015

History of the Interstate Highway System

By the time the Federal Aid Highway Act was signed in 1956, Americans were well under way with their love affair with motor vehicles. Cross country truck routes had already been established back in the 1920s, but were hardly well thought out or efficient. Routes wound through a confusing series of Class B highways and back roads making a standard coast to coast delivery take up to two weeks.

World War II had done much to increase the production of manufactured goods at home, and agricultural developments post-war had more produce being grown by industrialized farms than could conceivably be shipped through the current routes. The trains were overloaded, and a solution needed to found. It was President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his federal transportation department who came up with the solution - a government funded program to align the major arteries of the country under one engineered banner. This was the Interstate Highways System, which broke ground in 1957 and was later renamed the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense System in 1990 in Ike’s honor.

Interstate highway system

The initial interstate system worked from a two-pronged approach, with the first being the commercial movement of goods over state lines. The second was to relieve a growing debt on individual state budgets that previously had to develop their own systems of road-top transportation. By coordinating a nation-wide project, arteries were formalized between major cities along supply and production corridors, allowing for raw materials and final products to be moved to and from points of processing and manufacture. Construction material and design were also coordinated, making for vast improvements.

No longer would it take an orange grown in Florida two weeks to hit the shelf in Pasadena, and with this time factor removed, prices dropped to more reasonable levels for consumers, increasing demand for supply. The subsidies of the interstate system provided to individual states created a standard for travel, allowing more trucks on the road with vastly decreased travel time.

Before the Interstate system was placed into effect, states were required through necessity to construct and pay for their own highway systems, hopefully working with neighboring states in the process to ‘meet up’ somewhere along the shared border. As can be imagined, this didn’t always go as planned. State highways projects were often abandoned in the middle of nowhere due to budgetary mismanagement and related constraints, and miscommunication with partnering states wreaked havoc from a coordination point of view. Local government budgets were being decimated, and these pockets of loss were affecting the commerce of the nation as a whole.

Interstate highways of tomorrow

Smart driving technology aside, the federal government has turned its attention to repairing and improving existing stretches of highway through fiscal recovery acts, both in 2006 and again in 2011. These channels of funds are earmarked for road top repair and additions to increase efficiencies in the interstate system. This forward thinking dedicates the federal government’s focus on a connected nation, while maintaining the legacy of Ike’s vision for a nation built on commerce.

This article sponsored by The Clermont County Historical Society 

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