My Road Gang

Jan. 1, 2006

I’m not sure what Dwight D. Eisenhower would think if I passed him a Journey Greatest Hits CD to slide into the CD player. And I don’t know if Frank Turner could make a mean ham-and-cheese sandwich.

I’m not sure what Dwight D. Eisenhower would think if I passed him a Journey Greatest Hits CD to slide into the CD player. And I don’t know if Frank Turner could make a mean ham-and-cheese sandwich.

However, if I had to choose three people—alive or dead—to accompany me on a seven-hour job-related excursion of the interstate system, those two would top the list. Dwight would ride shotgun, with Turner sitting behind him navigating the map. Behind me, occasionally and politely tapping on my shoulder, would be Dan McNichol. If Eisenhower is the creator of the most extensive road network in the world and Turner is the father, then McNichol is its big brother. He knows every fond memory of the interstate’s existence, will defend the purpose and design to the death and has an unconditional love for it. McNichol has written several books on road and bridge construction, and I had the chance to talk to him about the interstate’s 50th a few weeks ago.

For the next 20 minutes McNichol hammered out facts about Eisenhower’s interstate legacy and how it is still carried out today. After agreeing with me that the system is far outdated, he said something that has grouped my brain cells into one big think tank as of late.

“What the interstate system needs is a master stroke and a master vision, and sadly right now we have no visionaries like Eisenhower to figure out what is next.”

McNichol went on to say the problem is a little more difficult than it was 50 years ago, but his claim of the lack of infrastructure sculpters is dead-on accurate. I have been covering this industry for over seven years and through two of the most prolific funding bills in U.S. history, but I have yet to hear someone like Eisenhower actually draw out the next 50 years of cross-country travel. Sure, there have been those who have addressed funding, and plenty have offered general anecdotes. What this country needs is the kind of detail that will cover every bridge, every ramp and every lane in every city, county and region.

McNichol had a three-part answer to what he believes should be the future of the interstate system.

“It needs to be beautiful. People need to be inspired by this thing.” McNichol used the German Autobahn as an example. In the early days the Autobahn was meant to inspire people to travel and increase tourism. Some U.S. DOTs have begun splashing art into the road network, but the interstate system is still plagued by cheap, plain bridges and generic lane-miles.

“The interstate needs to be about commerce.” McNichol supported his second point with what is happening with the new China interstate system, where the central focus is on moving freight.

“It needs to be addressed that our interstate system is our primary escape route.” Hurricanes Katrina and Rita demonstrated the interstate’s fleeing capacity. The execution wasn’t flawless, but it did work under current-day factors. However, if little is done to expand highway capacity in the next 5-10 years, I’m not sure how “escapable” a hurricane will be.

And just how will we pay for all of this forward thinking? McNichol toyed with the idea of raising the federal fuel tax by a quarter. That’s one point I could embrace, slice and ponder for hours with the author. Road trip?

About The Author: By Bill Wilson Editor in Chief [email protected]

Sponsored Recommendations

The Science Behind Sustainable Concrete Sealing Solutions

Extend the lifespan and durability of any concrete. PoreShield is a USDA BioPreferred product and is approved for residential, commercial, and industrial use. It works great above...

Proven Concrete Protection That’s Safe & Sustainable

Real-life DOT field tests and university researchers have found that PoreShieldTM lasts for 10+ years and extends the life of concrete.

Revolutionizing Concrete Protection - A Sustainable Solution for Lasting Durability

The concrete at the Indiana State Fairgrounds & Event Center is subject to several potential sources of damage including livestock biowaste, food/beverage waste, and freeze/thaw...

The Future of Concrete Preservation

PoreShield is a cost-effective, nontoxic alternative to traditional concrete sealers. It works differently, absorbing deep into the concrete pores to block damage from salt ions...