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U.S. Interstate System - A Brief History

Today in the United States, traveling a considerable distance by automobile often involves traveling along a portion of at least one interstate. Direct, multi-lane routes, high speed limits and the absence of stop signs and red lights make interstate travel a convenient and efficient means of getting from point A to point B. Drivers have the opportunity to travel along convenient, controlled access interstates for short commutes to work or for road trips from coast to coast. But the availability of such strategically designed public interstate routes has not always been the case in the U.S.
 
Multiple attempts to establish a nationwide roadway system took place long before construction began on the interstate system to which we are accustomed today. In the 1930s, under the direction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and with the support of Congress, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1938 was introduced. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1938 engaged the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) to analyze the viability of constructing a network of six major toll funded highways, with three running east and west and the other three north and south. The study concluded that the expense of the proposed project would be too immense to be toll funded.
 
President Roosevelt created the National Interregional Highway Committee in 1941 to again assess the need for a national highway system. As a result of the committee's findings, which are included in their report titled Interregional Highways, Congress passed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944 designated a "National System of Interstate Highways," which would be focused heavily on national defense and would directly link major cities and provide for appropriate route connections to Mexico and Canada. But the lack of appropriated funding for the project delayed progress.
 
Having traveled with the Army on the original motor convoy across the United States and observed the advantages Germany received from its autobahn network during World War II, President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a firsthand understanding of the significance of a national highway system when he took office in 1953. Though inadequate funding had previously been allotted for the interstate system, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 dedicated sufficient funding for the project, with the Federal Government being responsible for 90 percent of the expense. The legislation also provided for major improvements in the plan, such as nationwide standards for the number of lanes, lane width, shoulder specifications and design speed capabilities. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 propelled the development of the interstate project and its ultimate completion.
 
The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways has not only established a link among U.S. cities and neighboring countries, but has propagated immeasurable progress for the United States economy by facilitating safe, efficient transportation of personnel and goods.





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