interstate highway system
Sixty-four years ago, today…
Also known as the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 (Public Law 84-627), [it] was enacted on June 29, 1956, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill into law. With an original authorization of $25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles (66,000 km) of the Interstate Highway System, supposedly over a 10-year period, it was the largest public works project in American history [at] that time.
The addition of the term defense in the act’s title was for two reasons. First, some of the original cost was diverted from defense funds. Secondly, most U.S. Air Force bases have a direct link to the system. One of the stated purposes was to provide access in order to defend the United States during a conventional or nuclear war with the Soviet Union and its communist allies. All of these links were in the original plans, [though] some, such as Wright Patterson AFB, were not connected […] in the 1950s but, [were] later.
The money for the Interstate […] and Defense Highways was [drawn from] a Highway Trust Fund that paid for 90% of highway construction costs, with the states required to pay the remaining [10%]. It was expected that the money would be generated through new taxes on fuel, automobiles, trucks and tires. As a matter of practice, the federal portion of the cost of the Interstate Highway System has been paid for by taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel.
Eisenhower‘s support of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 can be directly attributed to his experiences in 1919 as a participant in the U.S. Army’s first Transcontinental Motor Convoy across the United States on the historic Lincoln Highway, which was the first road across America. The convoy was memorable enough for a young Army officer, 28-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Dwight David Eisenhower, to include a chapter about the trip, titled Through Darkest America With Truck and Tank in his book At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends (Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1967).
Following completion of the highways, the cross-country journey that took the convoy two months in 1919 was cut down to five days.
Additional Reading & Sources:
Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956: Creating The Interstate System (Federal Highway Administration)
Federal Highway Act of 1956 (Web Archive of the Class Brain Site)
Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 (Wikipedia)
After 59 years, the iconic Route 66 enters the realm of history on this day in 1985, when the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials decertifies the road and votes to remove all its highway signs. Measuring some 2,200 miles in its heyday, Route 66 stretched from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, passing through eight states. According to a New York Times article about its decertification, most of Route 66 followed a path through the wilderness forged in 1857 by U.S. Navy Lieutenant Edward Beale at the head of a caravan of camels. Over the years, wagon trains and cattlemen eventually made way for trucks and passenger automobiles.
The idea of building a highway along this route surfaced in Oklahoma in the mid-1920s as a way to link the state to cities like Chicago and Los Angeles. Highway Commissioner Cyrus S. Avery touted it as a way of diverting traffic from Kansas City, Missouri and Denver. In 1926, the highway earned its official designation as Route 66. The diagonal course of Route 66 linked hundreds of mostly rural communities to the cities along its route, allowing farmers to more easily transport grain and other types of produce for distribution. The highway was also a lifeline for the long-distance trucking industry, which by 1930 was competing with the railroad for dominance in the shipping market.
Route 66 was the scene of a mass westward migration during the 1930s, when more than 200,000 people traveled from the poverty-stricken Dust Bowl to California. John Steinbeck immortalized the highway, which he called the “Mother Road”, in his classic 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath. Beginning in the 1950s, the building of a massive system of interstate highways made older roads increasingly obsolete and, by 1970, modern four-lane highways had bypassed nearly all sections of Route 66. In October 1984, Interstate-40 bypassed the last original stretch of Route 66 at Williams, Arizona and, the following year, the road was decertified. According to the National Historic Route 66 Federation, drivers can still use 85 percent of the road and Route 66 has become a destination for tourists from all over the world.
Often called the Main Street of America, Route 66 became a pop culture mainstay over the years, inspiring its own song (written in 1947 [sic] by Bobby Troup, Route 66 was later recorded by artists as varied as Nat King Cole, Chuck Berry and The Rolling Stones) as well as a 1960s television series. More recently, the historic highway was featured prominently in the hit animated film Cars (2006).