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About Our Interstate Highway System

With the announcement of Mr. Obama’s New New Deal there has been a lot of talk about President Eisenhower’s National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.

You may (or may not) be surprised to learn that it too was an idea from Franklin Roosevelt.

First, from the American Association Of State Highway And Transportation Officials:

The Birth of the Interstate Highway System

… In 1914, officials of early state transportation departments formed the American Association of State Highway Officials to bring a more orderly arrangement to the road system, establish standards for construction, and promote highway development across the country. Years later, the state officials worked with the federal government to set up a state/federal shared system for financing roads that continues to this day.

Plans for a national system of expressways were developed [from 1941 to] 1944 by the National Highway Committee, appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt, and headed by Commissioner of Public Roads Thomas H. MacDonald. The plan called for a system of 33,900 miles of expressways and 5,000 miles of auxiliary routes.

Congress designated the 40,000 mile National System of Interstate Highways in 1944, but funding would not be authorized until 1952, when President Harry Truman signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1952 offering a token down payment of $25 million for the Interstates. It would be up to President Dwight David Eisenhower to lead the campaign for funding sufficient to build the nation’s Interstate System.

The Convoy

Eisenhower personally witnessed the need for a national highway system in 1919, when as a lieutenant colonel in the Army he helped staff a coast-to-coast convoy of 81 military vehicles. The 1919 journey was a long and often lousy trip—62 days of heat, breakdowns, mud, bridgeless river-crossings, and rough roads. Where bridges did exist, the heavy military vehicles often broke through bridge decks. With 3,251 miles to cover between Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, the convoy set a record pace—58 miles a day at about 6 mph. On today’s Interstate highway, such a trip could be done in less than a week, covering in an hour the distance the 1919 military convoy needed a whole day to traverse.

During the journey, Lt. Col. Eisenhower formed the opinion that the United States desperately needed a better highway system. That conviction was only reinforced during World War II, when Eisenhower used Germany’s up-to-the-minute autobahn system to move U.S. troops with lightning speed deep into Germany, putting the German army—then the enemy of the United States—on the run.

Although a system of special interstate highways had been discussed as early as the Roosevelt Administration in the 1940s, Eisenhower made it a keystone of his domestic agenda when he came into office in the mid-1950s. He named General Lucius Clay to work with a federal Interagency committee and the Bureau of Public Roads to assess needs, estimate costs and make recommendations on how to fund the construction of the system. Francis “Frank” C. Turner, who would later oversee much of the construction of the Interstate as head of the Bureau of Public Roads, served as Executive Secretary.

Although the Clay Committee’s report, A Ten-Year National Highway Program, documented the funding needs, Congress failed to embrace its financing recommendation, which proposed that the system be paid for with bonds. The President’s plan went down to defeat in July 1955.

Unwilling to accept a defeat, Eisenhower resumed his campaign in 1956. Creation of a new tax-based financing plan, with the federal government bearing the lion’s share of construction costs, and a new map including urban interstates paved the way for passage of the program in the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956

And some further, telling details, from the Federal Highway Administration:

50th Anniversary Of The Interstate Highway System – Frequently Asked Questions

Did construction of the Interstate System contribute to the national debt?

Congress… adopted a proposal to finance the Interstate System on a pay-as-you-go basis with revenue from highway user taxes.  The revenue was credited by the Department of the Treasury to the Highway Trust Fund established under the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956.

Why did it cost so much more than expected?

During debate leading up to the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, Congress used an estimate of $27 billion…

The final estimate of the cost of the Interstate System was issued in 1991.  It estimated that the total cost would be $128.9 billion…

When did the program end?

It didn’t.  The program authorized by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 includes one last piece of Interstate that is likely to be built under the terms of the 1956 Act.  It is a connection north of Philadelphia to close the last gap in I-95.  The project involves an I-95 interchange with the Pennsylvania Turnpike and an additional bridge over the Delaware River parallel to the existing bridge.  Review of the proposed project under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 has been completed and detailed design is underway. 

In addition, States continue to develop routes outside the 1956 Act program that may be added to the Interstate System under existing legislation or that have been or will be declared “future Interstates” by Federal legislation.

Note that like all federal government, it turned out to cost more than twice the estimated costs –and that the program has never ended.

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, December 8th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

10 Responses to “About Our Interstate Highway System”

  1. retire05 says:

    In case most of your readers were not around when Eisenhower initiated his interstate highway plans, it was not for the creation of jobs; it was for the creation of a highway system that could handle the transportation of missles. Bridges had to be a certain height in order for the tractor trailers that the missles were transported on could pass underneath with a few inches to spare. The interstate highway system was part of Eisenhower’s national SECURITY plan, not a plan for jobs. And how did it work out?

    The money claimed needed to do the interstate highway project fell way short. By about 20 times. And many projects were scrapped due to cost and lack of money.

    Obama states that the money given to each state for bridges and highways will be a “use it or lose it” policy. Now, it takes a real rocket scientist to figure out that is already the policy. What he doesn’t mention is that the states are required to pony up a part of the funding for every state highway project, which includes roads and bridges. So states will have to come up with the matching funds for those projects or lose the money. That should be interesting. As Jennifer Granholm, governor of Michigan, is one of the governors trying to belly up to the taxpayer trough to bail out her over regulated, over taxed state that is bleeding citizens like water flowing from a spigot, just where is she going to get the money for all those “roads and bridges” in Michigan? Will Obama give Michigan a break while states like Texas, who are in the black and even have a surplus due to good management, are put on the hook to pay for their portion? Remember, Texas has a Republican governor who is against the “bailout” for badly managed states like Michigan and California.

    And just who will profit from all these “highway” jobs? Will it help the waitress at the local cafe? How about the guy who busts his tail everyday fixing someone’s toilet like Joe the Plumber? How does this help the woman who keeps the books at your local GM dealer that is facing losing her job because no one is buying a GM product? The simple answer: it doesn’t.

    Who will this help? Perhaps we should look at who benefitted the most from the housing/construction boom? It wasn’t the average taxpaying American. It was the illegal from Guatamala who had managed to swim the Rio Grande undetected and work his way to Houston, Chicago, Erie, and Los Angeles. Those are construction jobs, as are highway project jobs. Drive past any highway construction job and check out whose is working there. Want to lay odds on how many (at least in my state) even speak English?

    States do not build roads and bridges. They contract those projects out to companies like Dean Word (in Texas) and others. Those contractors are then responsible for hiring workers and since those projects are all subject to bidding, they will hire the most people they can at the least wage. That means lots of jobs for lots of “undocumented” workers. With the nomination of pro-illegal Janet Napolitano (governor of Arizona) for the Secretary of Homeland Security, I would not be surprised to see the Border Patrol ordered to hand out “Welcome to America” gift bags to border jumpers as Obama’s highway projects contractors need to fill thousands of construction jobs.

    And while Obama makes this sound like a panacea to a bleeding job market, it will take years for design, property acquisition and right of ways, buraucratic red tape, permits and finally, the bidding process. Even if Obama serves two terms (God help us if he does) chances are that these projects won’t start rolling until AFTER he leaves office.

    And true to his liberal roots, Obama is firmly convinced that the quality of education is tied to the quality of the school building. Upgrading school buildings, making sure they comply with his ideals of “green” must be a real source of joy to his former constituants in Chicago who are living in rat infested slums much like the ones owned by his former friend, Tony Rezko. While their children may get bitten by a rat during the night as they sleep, and they have no jobs and no hopes of ever getting their children out of the slum, at least the school will be politically correct. No more bad light bulbs. While their children are stuck in failing schools with teachers who have been pushed through by affirmative action rules at state universities (as his children go to a tony upscale private school) that are not qualified to pick up trash much less teach and create a desire to learn, the kids will be in “green” schools remodeled by (tah-dah) more illegals. I am sure it will not take the kids in southside Chicago long to learn that if they break a lightbulb, the school will have to be evacuated for the day in order to do enviromentally safe mercury “clean up”.

    The more he opens his mouth, the more I am convinced that “The One” is totally clueless and we are totally screwed.

  2. proreason says:

    good post Retire.

    I don’t have an issue with Public Works projects that are needed and managed by the Private sector. The infrastructure does need to be refreshed periodically, and that is one of the few things I don’t mind paying taxes for.

    But when Public Works projects are make work to keep people busy, then they are just another form of welfare, and they tax the future to give people money today….they are ponzi schemes that have to eventually end in disaster. Moreover, it labor that could be applied to economically useful projects.

    Green jobs are classic socialist make-work efforts. If alternative energy was viable, private business would jump all over it. We might as well give people money to fight space aliens. The loonie analogy to the Apollo program is also delusional. We knew from the start the space effort had benefits. The only benefit of building windmills is to inflate Algore’s ego.

  3. retire05 says:

    Proreason; Obama wants to build windmills. Now this wouldn’t have anything to do with Tom Daschle and Daschle’s lobbying for Excelon and Excelon’s millions in campaign contributions to Obama. Excelon is BIG into windmills.

    While the Democrats were jumping up and down over the Alaskan bridge to nowhere, under Obama you are going to see not just bridges to nowhere, but roads to nowhere. But not being one to complain, here is my plan. Since I live in Texas and finding illegals to work a road project is as easy as standing upright, I intend to bid to pave my driveway (I will call it a road to my garage where a number of illegal feral cats live). I will act as my own contractor, and the job could take as long as two years (it is really a two day job but I could extend it) for ten illegals. Not to mention that I could probably use a bridge at the ranch to get to my barn since I do have to drive over a bar ditch. That is another ten jobs for illegals. Then with cost overruns and reworking what was screwed up to begin with (think Big Dig in Boston or the Visitor’s Center in Washington, D.C.) I figure that within the next four years I will not have to worry about the stock market, the economy and by the time Obama leaves office I should be sitting really pretty. If I get busted for hiring illegals, I will claim stupidity and just send them to Trader’s Village (a flea market) in Houston to get new green cards and Social Security cards. Getting legitimate Social Security numbers should be a snap. I will just wait until Obama puts all our medical records on the internet, pay some dimwitted computer technology major at the University of Texas to hack in and wholla! I got me some Social Security number that are real. Hell, if the Chinese can hack into the Defense Department, a UT student shouldn’t have any problems.

    But I think I will probably remain an honest, taxpaying citizen that will continue to fight Obama’s Looney Tunes policies by demanding my Texas Congressmen and Senators fight his New New Deal that will keep us in the recession for more years than necessary.

  4. proreason says:

    “Note that like all federal government, it turned out to cost more than twice the estimated costs –and that the program has never ended.”

    The best thing that could happen to this country that would have even a remote chance of actully happening would be to pass term limits (2 terms) on every national office.

    The key government criminals are all multi-term thugs, and the beaurcracy is their ally. Every beaurocrat has a vested self-interest in continuation of whatever unnecessary program they get paid to screw up. And with elected officials also feeding at the trough, that is what has brought this country to the brink of ruin.

  5. Reality Bytes says:

    Uh, pardon me SG, but wasn’t the USG running surpluses under Eisenhower? And, what’s the national debt today 9 trillion before we add the last three months of bailouts – not to mention this latest boondoggle? Is there anyone left in Washington who can protect us from the “REVERSE MORTGAGING” of America?

  6. Steve says:

    “Uh, pardon me SG, but wasn’t the USG running surpluses under Eisenhower?”

    I’m not sure I get your point. Ike INSISTED that the Highway Program should not increase the deficit. He wanted to do it with bonds, but Congress did it with new taxes — highway taxes.

    But it did not increase the deficit. At least it wasn’t supposed to.

    Which of course is in stunning contrast to Obama’s plan.

    Obama now says deficits don’t matter. (Parroting Professor “Who?” Pollin.)

  7. Reality Bytes says:

    SG – (Ike’s program) “is in stunning contrast to Obama’s plan.

    Exactly. Why are we spending trillions of money we don’t have when the greater result would be from creating more money by allowing Americans to keep what they already have?!

  8. U NO HOO says:

    “it will take years”

    Look up I-78 in PA…it took twenty years…just to decide the route.

    I-99 isn’t even an Interstate.

    Go figure.

  9. 1laidbackRN says:

    proreason, retire05; You know who else was into windmills??? Don Quixote……

  10. proreason says:

    “Why are we spending trillions of money we don’t have when the greater result would be from creating more money by allowing Americans to keep what they already have?!”

    Because letting Americans keep what they have doesn’t let the idiots in Congress play god with our lives. Congress and Obamy could care frigging less about the outcome. They just want the power.


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