Celebrating the interstate

In celebration of the 40th birthday of the interstate system, parties are planned across the country; Louisiana leads the contingent by commemorating completion of I&shyp;49 in true Cajun fashion

Larry Flynn / December 28, 2000

Like many celebrations in Louisiana, festivities involving the completion
of I&shyp;49 in the Pelican State revolved around food, music and politics.
The celebration, which included a crawfish boil, a breakfast, and a marching
band followed by a traditional ribbon cutting involving federal, state and
local officials, coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Interstate Highway
System. The event also marked the completion of the entire interstate system,
as it now stands, in Louisiana and the Southeast.

Frank Denton, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and
Development (DOTD) and Ed Wueste, regional administrator of the Federal
Highway Administration (FHWA), were present at the May 1 ceremonies that
opened the final section of the $138.8 million project. The 16.6-mile Alexandria
urban section will be known as the Martin Luther King Jr. Highway. An approved
permanent marker commemorating the King naming will be established near
the site of the ribbon cutting at the intersection of Murray Street and

As part of the festivities, Gov. Mike Foster proclaimed May 1 as Interstate
49 Day in Louisiana to highlight opening activities and to commemorate the
interstate system's 40th year in existence.

While the celebration marks the completion of I&shyp;49, the longest interstate
in America that begins and ends in the same state, and the interstate in
the Southeast, interstate systems in six other states, California, Hawaii,
Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia,
were still to be under construction after I&shyp;49 was completed. I&shyp;49
links North-South Louisiana and includes 212 miles of roadway between Lafayette
and Shreveport. In its entirety, construction of I&shyp;49, which began
in October 1975, cost approximately $1.3 billion.

President Clinton sent greetings to those in attendance at the celebration.
"This major arterial marks the completion of nearly 900 miles of interstate
in Louisiana," he said in a written statement. "A vital link to
Louisiana's major metropolitan areas, it will strengthen the economy and
improve mobility throughout the region. You can take great pride in helping
to forge the partnership that brought the I&shyp;49 project to a successful
conclusion. This kind of cooperative effort at the federal, state and local
levels proves that we can meet the challenge of investing in America's infrastructure
while maintaining our commitment to a balanced federal budget."

T.D. "Tommy" James of Reston, La., chairman of The Road Information
Program (TRIP), Washington, D.C., said, "I&shyp;49 completes the connection
from southern Louisiana to the northwestern corner of the state, Lafayette
to Alexandria to Shreveport. Can you imagine how difficult our life would
be if we didn't have the interstate to travel on and for businesses to use
to deliver the goods we buy and sell?"

Patrick L. Gootee, president of Associated General Contractors of Louisiana,
praised the efforts of Gov. Foster and DOTD Secretary Denton for their work
in completing the interstate. Gootee said, "The interstate is important
to Louisiana's economy because it has created hundreds of thousands of jobs
in and outside of the construction industry, as well as promoted economic
development through- out the state.

"Every $100 million spent on highway construction over the years creates
about 3,000 jobs in and outside of construction in our state," he said.

While the Louisiana celebration may have been the first, it will not be
the only celebration held in conjunction with the interstate's 40th birthday.
Will Wilkins, executive director of TRIP, said that his organization, which
acts as a non-profit public relations arm of the highway industry, had obtained
commitments from at least

20 general-contractor organizations across the U.S. who plan on conducting
some type of event in commemoration of the anniversary.

Among state celebrations to take place, in New York, a luncheon is being
planned in which the governor and other officials are to be invited. TRIP
is helping to coordinate media efforts with organizations within the Empire
State. The state organizations are charged with running the event, while
TRIP offers assistance with public relations. In Missouri, organizers are
planning an event on Aug. 10 to coincide with the date that construction
of the interstate system began in the Show Me State.

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