Origins of the Interstates

Based on American's desire for convenient travel, the interstates are the culmination of years of transportation discoveries

David Banasiak / December 28, 2000

In 1673, two French explorers, Louis Jolliet and Père Jacques Marquette
paddled their canoes down the St. Lawrence River in search of a water route
to the Mississippi River.

The economy of the French colonies in America was driven by the fur trade;
a trade that remained largely untapped. If the interior of North America
could be opened with transportation routes, the French could fully exploit
this lucrative market. They could even transport valuable, buffalo robes,
which were too large and heavy to ship to Montreal by existing means. To
do this they needed a waterway with the width and depth to support commercial
craft larger than canoes. Portage distance also needed to be shortened.

By paddling along the shores of Lakes Huron and Michigan and then canoeing
the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers-portaging when necessary-Jolliet and Marquette
reached the Mississippi River, which they navigated down to Arkansas. However,
this was not the best route. They found a better one on their return up
the Mississippi. Instead of returning via the Wisconsin they paddled up
the Illinois River and followed it to the Des Plaines River. This led them
to a marshy region and a short portage, about one league, to the Chicago
River. From here they canoed into Lake Michigan. Their discovery revealed
an important transportation route into the heartland of North America.

Establishing travel routes across the continent occupied the activities
of settlers since they began migrating here. As waterways were mapped and
explored they proved a convenient avenue for transport. But rivers and
streams did not always go to the places where people wanted to travel.
Sometimes waterways were not navigable and traveling against the current
often proved difficult. In the late 1700s it took a boat about one month
to travel from Pittsburgh to New Orleans via the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers
but a return trip took as much as four months. Roadways needed to be cut
into the interior to supplement the river routes which had been discovered.

The chief barrier to westward travel was the Appalachian mountains and a
1763 royal proclamation by King George III, which forbade settlers from
crossing the Appalachians to settle the interior. He hoped this move would
prevent Indian wars and preserve the fur trade.

In 1774-75, Daniel Boone, who had explored and trapped in Kentucky, blazed
a path from Virginia through the Cumberland Gap, and across Kentucky to
the Falls of the Ohio River, at the present site of Louisville. This early
route was but a trace without the ability to support wagon travel. However,
in 1779, the legislature of Virginia passed an act authorizing its conversion
into a wagon road. But improvement work could not begin until 1792 when
sufficient funds were finally raised, by private enterprise.

It was called the Wilderness Road and it played a major part in the development
of the U.S. and the settlement of the trans-Appalachian region. Thomas Speed,
in The Wilderness Road, writes, "It pierced and broke the center of
the barriers, which had barred the West against occupation . . . It made
the vast territory of the Northwest, then including Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois
vulnerable to settlement."

The Colonies' victory over England opened up the territories west of the
Appalachian Mountains and soon sparked a road-building mania as more people
migrated into the interior. Roads and traces were hacked across the Appalachians
and into the wilderness of the new, western territory. Like the Wilderness
Road, these generally followed Indian trails. In 1806, Congress voted to
fund a road from Cumberland, Md., to Wheeling, Va. (present day W. Va.).
The road, named the Cumberland Road and later the National Road when it
was lengthened to Vandalia, Ill., roughly followed the path cut by Gen.
Braddock during the French and Indian War and is now part of U.S. Route
40. Also that year, Congress authorized the construction of the Natchez
Trace, along a 500-mile Indian trail from Nashville to Natchez, Miss. But
the new roads merely supplemented the waterways, which were still a popular
mode of travel.

George Washington stressed the importance of waterways to the new country's
commerce. Using Pennsylvania as an example, he wrote, "there are one
hundred thousand souls west of the Laurel Hill, who are groaning under the
inconveniences of a long land transportation." Washington felt that
the Eastern and Western settlements of the U.S. must be bound through commerce
and this could only be effected by easy and efficient transportation between
the two regions.

The Ohio River, flowing westward, was the major transportation route into
the new territories. Many of the new roads ended in towns along the banks
of the Ohio. When, in 1807, Robert Fulton's steam ship, the Clermont, successfully
navigated the Hudson from New York to Albany-demonstrating its ability to
travel against river currents-it appeared that roads would remain secondary
in the growing transportation network of the young country; and its position
was to get worse.

Before the steam engine, muscle power moved the world. Wind was often harnessed
to sail ships across the oceans, but the most reliable "engine"
was animal and human muscles. Things were to change as the application of
the steam engine grew.

On Christmas Day, 1830, the first scheduled steam rail passenger service
was available in the U.S. when the train, Best Friend of Charleston, pulled
out of the city of Charleston. By the mid 1830s there would be 1,000 miles
of railroad track in the country. In the 1860s this number jumped to 35,000
miles and at the turn of the century 254,000 miles of track carried goods
and passengers across the country. The steam locomotive proved vastly superior
to the muscles of man and beast, and soon was the dominant form of transportation.

Despite railroads' strong hold on transportation, some people looked at
ways to improve America's dirt, gravel and cobblestone roads. A Belgian
chemist, by the name of Edmund J. DeSmedt placed an asphalt pavement in
front of City Hall in Newark, N.J., in 1870, and in 1876 DeSmedt supervised
the paving of Pennsylvania Avenue, in Washington, D.C., with asphalt. Other
asphalt pavement jobs followed.

In 1891 George Bartholomew received permission to pave the Main Street in
Bellefontaine, Ohio, with concrete (see California Freeway Crowns Centennial
of PCC Paving, July 1992, p 27). William T.G. Snyder, America's first concrete
paving contractor worked on the project, mixing the "artificial stone"
with shovels and placing it in 5-ft sq forms. It was a great success and
soon other cities in Ohio and the Midwest were improving their roadways
with Bartholomew's "artificial stone." But outside the cities
and towns roads still played a minor role in the movement of people and
goods. Two things were to change this.

The internal combustion engine in its simplest and possibly, its earliest
form, was the cannon. The fuel was gunpowder, and the energy released from
burning this fuel powered a cannon ball through the air. In 1680 a Dutch
scientist, Christiaan Huygens, demonstrated that gunpowder also can be used
to power a piston engine, but the combustion process was difficult to control
and the engine could be put to no practical use. Eventually, in 1876, a
practical 4-stroke cycle engine was built by Nikolaus August Otto. He implemented
the principles of Alphonse Beau de Rochas who recognized the compression
ratio as the important factor in engine efficiency. Fuel to power this engine
was readily available; the oil refining industry had been discarding it
as a waste product for years.

The invention of the kerosene lamp, in 1854, increased the demand for kerosene.
Oil wells were drilled-the first commercial one in 1859 near Titusville,
Pa., by Edwin L. Drake-and the oil refined into kerosene. In the refinement
process a highly volatile by-product was produced-gasoline. It was too dangerous
to put into a wick lamp so it was burnt off as a waste. However, it proved
a great fuel source for Otto's engine and the many other internal combustion
engines which were being built based on Otto's and Beau de Rochas' work.

Tinkers across the U.S. took advantage of these two developments to build
horseless carriages. The most successful and famous of these backyard inventors
was Henry Ford. He built his first horseless carriage, the 2-cylinder Quadricycle
in 1896. In 1903, he opened The Ford Motor Co. and manufactured 1,700 cars.
The idea of personal transport was popular with Americans and by 1910, 180,000
motor vehicles were registered. By 1912 118,000 of Ford's Model Ts were
on the road and the Ford Motor Co. became the largest auto maker in the

While more cars were being manufactured, and its engineering and design
improved upon, nothing was being done to improve the quality of the country's
roads. The ancient Roman Empire still boasted a better road network than
the U.S. The American Automobile Association (AAA) suggested a transcontinental
highway in 1902 but no action was taken. Also in that year the League of
American Wheelmen-a national bicyclists' association-organized the American
Road Makers (ARM), which began lobbying Washington for better roads.

In the early 1900s, about two-and-a-half-million miles of roads crossed
the country and less than 7% boasted improvements of grading, graveled macadam
and cobblestones. Dirt was the surface a driver could expect to motor upon.
Rough and dusty in good weather, muddy and impassable in wet, these rural
roads didn't really go anywhere.

No road network existed as we know it today. Roads fanned outward from rail
centers, like crooked spokes on a wheel, into the farmland. Farmers, who
used these roads to bring their goods to market, were rarely familiar with
the roads beyond a 15&shyp;20 mile radius, and no reliable maps existed.
Some maps and guides for the eastern states were available-Gulf Oil gas
stations offered free road maps in 1913-but west of Chicago the motor traveler
was on his own and had to make frequent stops to ask for directions.

Western roads were definitely in the worse condition. West of Omaha, Neb.,
water, gasoline and informational signs were scarce but mud holes, ruts
and sand pits were not. Bridges stood in poor shape and streams under 50
ft were not bridged and had to be forded.

Carl G. Fisher had an idea to change all this. Fisher enjoyed great success
with his Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the inauguration of the Indianapolis
500 on Memorial Day, 1911 caught the public's attention. Fisher's Prest-O-Lite
Co., manufacturers of carbide headlights, controlled a large share of the
auto head-light market. Naturally, he had a strong interest in the propagation
of the automobile, so he revived the AAA's suggestion of a transcontinental
roadway, but unlike ARM, he did not look to Congress for help or leadership.

He planned to call it the Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway and in 1912 he began
campaigning for support among the manufacturers of autos and auto accessories.
His goal was $10 million to build a gravel highway from New York to San
Francisco and to have it completed by 1915; in time for motorist to drive
to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. Building materials would
be supplied, and the states, counties and towns would provide the labor
and equipment.

Enthusiasm for the Rock Highway was immediate but mixed. Frank Seiberling
of Goodyear pledged $300,000 and donations from other companies and private
individuals trickled in. But Fisher needed a big name in the motor car industry
to come to his support and encourage others to help. In the auto industry
there was no bigger name than Henry Ford, but when Ford was approached he
politely and firmly declined. Ford believed that funding road construction
through private means was not in the best interest of the public. Proper
taxes was the financial method favored by Ford. Despite his father's views,
Edsel Ford contributed generously of his own money and time, eventually
serving on the Lincoln Highway Association (LHA) board.

Fisher ignored this major setback and soon enlisted the support of Henry
Joy, president of Packard Motor Car Co. who pledged $150,000 and donated
a car to Fisher's Good Roads Committee. Joy's support came with one stipulation.
He wanted the road to be named after his childhood hero-Abraham Lincoln.
Other auto manufacturers-Willys-Overland and Hudson Motor Car Co.-joined
Packard and in 1913 the LHA was incorporated with Joy as its president.

The Lincoln Highway (portions of which are now U.S. Highway 30) became America's
first coast-to-coast highway, stretching 3,332 miles from New York City's
Times Square to San Francisco's Pacific Ocean Lincoln Park. In reality Lincoln
Highway was less a highway and more a connection of dirt roads across America.
The LHA encouraged the upgrading of the roads and even paved "seedling
miles" at different locations along the route, in order to give people
an idea of the pleasures of driving on a paved road. In 1922, they paved
what would be known as the Ideal Section in Indiana between the towns of
Schererville and Dyer. A little over a mile long, it was a 40-ft wide, 10-in.-thick,
four-lane concrete highway with night illumination. Upon completion, the
$167,000 Ideal Section drew the praises of engineers and road builders,
and would serve as an example for the builders of the Interstates.

But the "seedling miles" failed to catch on and in April 1926,
Roads and Streets magazine (ROADS & BRIDGES' predecessor), reported
that only 559 miles of Lincoln Highway was paved in concrete. The largest
section-1,382 miles-was composed of graded gravel while the remaining portions
of the highway were made up of brick, macadam, asphalt and natural earth.

The early efforts of the LHA, along with the National Highways Association
(NHA), highlighted the need for a system of highways across America. People
began dreaming of vast superhighways connecting with smaller roads to establish
a national system of roads.

In 1916, Joy advocated a federal highway of 10,000 miles along the border
of the U.S. The proposed border highway would connect existing highways,
such as the Dixie, Jefferson, Lincoln, Columbia River and the Santa Fe Trail,
to create a military road for rapid mobilization and concentration. In an
interview with the New York Times on June 4, 1916, Joy said, "It is
well within the proprieties, and infinitely of more value to the United
States, than the Panama Canal. It would be a public work of inestimable
value in civil life as well as of national necessity in the work of military

The NHA also had great plans for America's roads. In 1916, they released
a map proposing the link-up of 100,000 miles of highways into an orderly
network of roads. They too noted the military advantages such a road would
provide. A key element of their plan was the establishment of major highways
first, connecting important centers over vast distances, and then constructing
access roads from the highways to smaller towns. This idea is borrowed from
the railroad's successful practice of building trunk lines first then feeder

Finally convinced, the federal government decided to step in to help. On
July 11, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Aid Road Act,
authorizing the expenditure of $75 million in federal funds for the construction
of roads, provided states match the funds apportioned to them. It also allocated
$10 million to build roads in National Parks. The act required participating
states to create state highway departments and to assume maintenance of
the roads upon completion.

The act, an important step in the establishment of a federally supported
system of highways, provided states with money to build and improve roads,
but it did not require the states to connect their road networks with neighboring
states. President Wilson, in a speech made in the fall of 1916 encouraged
states to work together. "It is perfectly obvious that you have got
to have an intricate and perfect network of roads throughout the length
and breath of this great continent before you will have released the energies
of America. Good roads are necessary for every practical aspect of our lives,
to draw neighborhoods together, to create community of feeling, to create
those arteries of the human body."

The Federal Highway Act of 1921, signed by President Harding, supported
Wilson's statements with a stipulation that "such projects as will
expedite the completion of an adequate and connected system of highways,
interstate in character," will receive funding. This act allocated
$75 million to be matched by the states and could only be spent on primary
routes. By 1923 a rough network of highways began to take shape.

Road building increased and, in the early 1920s, new highways began to compete
with the Lincoln Highway for coast-to-coast travel. In the north the Yellowstone
Trail connected Boston and Seattle, while the Theodore Roosevelt International
Highway linked Portland, Maine with Portland, Ore. The southern routes included
the Old Spanish Trail from St. Augustine, Fla. to San Diego, the Bankhead
Highway joined Washington, D.C., with San Diego and the National Old Trails
Road between Baltimore and Los Angeles.

At the annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway Officials
(AASHO), in 1926, William M. Jardine, Secretary of Agriculture, presented
an address on the state of the highways under federal funding. He said,
"With each year's progress now it becomes easier to see the working
out of one of the primary conceptions of the federal-aid road legislation
as expressed in the requirement to expedite the completion of an adequate
system of highways interstate in character." He went on to boast that
one could now travel from Washington, D.C., to San Diego on a road which
is 97% improved. However, in the 1920s a gravel road was considered improved.
Of the road he mentions in his speech, about 45% of its surface was paved
with bituminous macadam, and over half the road was gravel with small sections
of dirt.

Slowly things were getting better and many new roads were boasting improvements
over gravel paving. In the next 20 years roads such as New York's Bronx
River Parkway, Connecticut's Merritt Parkway, California's Arroyo Seco Parkway-now
called the Pasadena Freeway-and the Pennsylvania Turnpike were, built. All
limited access highways, some funded with money from the federal government's
WPA program, they were the direct ancestors of the interstates.

While the states were building their own highways, the federal governement
continued to influence highway construction. In 1944, Congress passed a
Federal Highway Act authorizing the establishment of a national system of
interstates. The act planned 40,000 miles of highway connecting 42 of the
48 state capitals, and 182 of 199 cities with populations over 50,000.

But, despite the efforts of the state and the federal governments, driving
from state-to-state remained difficult. There was still no network of unified,
limited access "superhighways," and cross-country travel remained
a test for the adventurous. When the 2,200-mile-long Route 66 opened in
1932 a guide book for the road advised the traveler to bring with: spare
gas, motor oil and water; tire chains; steel tow-rope; a shovel; a jack;
a solid, broad, flat surface to rest the jack on in sandy soil; a tire pump
and patches. It would take unusual inspiration before work would begin on
a "superhighway" network.

Ever since Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler took Otto's engine and built a
horseless carriage around it, Germany has been enthusiastic about automobiles
and the mobility they provide.

When Adolf Hitler seized power in 1933 he quickly moved to implement his
party's promise to end the depression, which had crippled Germany, and stagnated
its economy with unemployment. He decided to "prime the pump"
through government deficit spending. Over a billion marks was allocated
for public works programs, the most famous being a system of superhighways
called the Reichsautobahnen. In 1933 construction began on three north-south
and three east-west routes, and by 1938, 1,860 miles, of a planned 2,500
miles were complete. The autobahn's dual-lane highways, 16-ft medians and
3-ft shoulders were the civil engineering wonder of the day. In 1942 work
stopped due to the war.

The role of the autobahns in Germany's war effort greatly impressed Gen.
Dwight D. Eisenhower and other Allied leaders. The swift manner in which
they were used to shuttle troops and supplies across Germany stood in sharp
contrast to a 1919 U.S. Army convoy across America.

Eisenhower was a lieutenant colonel when he joined the 81 trucks of the
Army's First Transcontinental Motor Convoy in 1919. The goal was to travel
from Washington, D.C., to the Presidio in San Francisco in order to test
America's roads and the Army's use of trucks and motor vehicles for transportation.
For most of the trip the convoy followed the Lincoln Highway, which, despite
the efforts of the LHA, was not in the best shape. Public opinion of the
road also was mixed.

In 1915 when Emily Post planned to motor west from New York City, she asked
a travel agent for advice on the best road, and the agent suggested the
Union Pacific Railroad. Post eventually took the Lincoln Highway and nearly
canceled her trip in Rochelle, Ill., because of mud and rain. In her 1917
book, By Motor to the Golden Gate, Post described Lincoln Highway as "a
meandering dirt road that becomes mud half a foot deep after a day or two
of rain!"

Composed of dirt, gravel and mud the western stretches remained bad. Often,
along paved sections, the heavy trucks of the convoy broke through the pavement.
Some bridges along the route collapsed under the stress and had to be repaired
or replaced by the Army. It took 62 days to cover the 3,251 miles, but
the slow speed can not totally be attributed to poor road conditions.

The convoy gave America the perfect opportunity to welcome its soldiers
home from Europe and to celebrate the end of WWI. In effect it was a huge
cross-country parade. A civilian contingent, composed of representatives
from the motor industry, accompanied the convoy. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber
Co. supplied a 15-piece band and members of the press and the LHA drove
along. Speeches, banquets and cheering crowds, greeted the convoy, slowing
their progress through the small towns along the route. Eisenhower also
commented that many of the army drivers had more experience driving teams
of horses than trucks.

Inspired by the efficiency of the Germans and concerned over the condition
of America's roads, Eisenhower made the building of a road network, based
on the autobahns, a major concern during his presidency. Building the highways
would be the largest public works program in history, employing millions
of men, and benefiting commerce and the economy. The highways would strengthen
the nation's defense, allowing for the rapid deployment and concentration
of the military. As a former military man, he recognized the value of this,
and was aware of the possibility of a nuclear war in the present state of
world affairs.

In 1955, during the Formosa Straits crisis, the U.S.-in order to protect
the Chinese Nationals on the isle of Formosa from the Chinese Communists
on the mainland-came close to starting a nuclear war. During this crisis,
Eisenhower was concerned over how to evacuate Washington and other cities
in case of nuclear attack. Four-lane highways leading from the cities would
aid an evacuation.

During the mid 1950s new car sales soared. In 1955, 7.92 million cars were
sold by Detroit auto makers, an increase of over 2 million from the previous
year, and the percentage of families owning cars hit 70%. According to AASHO
the total number of cars on the road doubled, between 1945 and 1955, to
61,000,000. In that same time frame the number of new roads only increased
by 1%. America's roads were becoming congested and traffic accidents were
on the rise.

The economic and military need for the interstates existed. Congress had
been trying to upgrade the highways for years but, due to state and federal
disputes over who would pay nothing was done. The fractionalization of the
highway lobby could do nothing to help because they had no clear idea on
how to implement a program.

Eisenhower realized that if a limited access, four-lane interstate was to
be built it would require the active efforts, and leadership of the federal
government. In July 1954, he began his campaign for the Interstate Highway
System. At a Governors' conference, he had Vice President Richard Nixon
make a speech putting forth the Administration's plans to improve America's
roads. In September of that year, he appointed Lucius Clay, former general
and military governor of Germany, head of a committee to investigate methods
for financing the interstates. Frank Turner-known as the "father of
the interstate"-was named executive secretary for the committee.

In January 1955, the Clay Committee submitted a report favoring federal
gasoline taxes to fund a 10-year building program. Eisenhower liked tolls
but the Committee argued that tolls would not generate sufficient funds
in the sparsely populated areas of the country. It was decided that the
project would be funded through the issue of bonds, paid back by a federal
gasoline and tire tax. The bill passed the Senate but was struck down by
the House Democrats who favored a pay-as-you-go plan over issuing bonds.

It was politics as usual. The 1956 elections were on the horizon and neither
the Democratic Congress nor the Republican administration wanted to give
the other credit for major legislation. Eisenhower's' school construction
bill also was struck down that year.

As 1956 began George M. Humphrey, Secretary of the Treasury, and Eisenhower
discussed methods to even out the peaks and valleys on the GNP chart. Eisenhower
suggested his favorite program, the interstate system, as a way for managing
the economy. In the fall of 1955, Sinclair Weeks, Secretary of Commerce,
had already been informed to prepare for such an eventuality. It was time
to come to terms with the Democrats on funding the project.

Democratic Representatives Hale Boggs and George Fallon introduced two bills
to the House, which formed the basis of the Democrat's plan for the interstates.
The Fallon Bill (H.R. 8836) authorized federal aid for a 13-year program
and Bogg's H.R. 9075 set-up users' taxes to finance the Fallon bill. Eisenhower
decided to support them, and encouraged Republican congressional leaders
to work with Boggs and Hale on the specifics.

America was eager for some action on the part of Congress. In February 1956,
the Ford Motor Co. issued a 120-page magazine, entitled Freedom of the American
Road, to encourage Americans to influence government to do something about
the highway situation. John V. Lawrence, managing director of the American
Trucking Associations, a group cautious about a users' tax, stated that
the trucking industry was ready to pay for its share of the interstates
as long as all classes of highway users bare the same rate of taxation.

On April 27, 1956, the House approved a $51,860,000,000 road-building bill,
388 to 19, and the taxes to pay for it. The bill, H.R. 10660, was a combination
of the Boggs and Fallon bills. The tax provisions raised the gasoline tax
from 2 cents per gal to 3 cents. The tax on tires went up 3 cents to 8 cents
per lb and a 3 cents per lb tax was placed on camelback, a retread rubber
for tires. Excises on trucks, buses and trailers went up from 8% of the
manufacturer's price to 10%. The act also required heavy trucks and buses
to pay a special new annual tax of $1.50 per 1,000 lb. According to Boggs,
these taxes would cost the average motorist $6 to $9 dollars more a year
to operate their car.

On May 29, the Senate passed H.R. 10660 by 55 to 27 with minor changes including
a reduction of the taxes on buses and certain trucks, the addition of Alaska-a
territory at that time-into the program and the prohibition of commercial
establishments along interstate right-of-ways. The following month, on June
29, Eisenhower signed it into law.

The National System of Interstate and Defense Highways got off to a quick
start. The first contract, using authorized funds, was awarded by the Missouri
State Highway Department on Aug. 2, 1956. By November, John A. Volpe, Federal
Highway Administrator, was reporting that 107 interstate projects costing
$100 million had been awarded. The new highways would have at least four
12-ft-wide lanes divided by a 22-ft median with 10-ft shoulders and 300-ft

Despite the quick start construction slowed and it appeared that the work
would not be completed in the planned 13 years. Insufficient financing due
to the unexpected high cost of construction through urban areas was a contributing
factor. Originally there were no plans to build the interstate through cities;
however, in order to secure the support of urban representatives in Congress,
concessions were made. When interstate construction came to the cities many
people were displaced from their homes.

Just as the railroads had done before, the interstate gave life to towns
it passed near and took it from the towns it bypassed. Suburbs, which had
been growing slowly since the GIs returned home from WWII, mushroomed.

The 1960s saw a backlash against interstate construction as the residents
of neighborhoods and towns organized against highways and other federal
projects. The state of New Mexico managed to stop construction for two years
when they passed a law forbidding bypasses of towns with a population smaller
than 50,000 without their consent. These protests resulted in the National
Environmental Policy Act of 1969. The act contributed to a slow down in
construction with its requirement of an environmental impact study before
federal funds could be spent. But the highways rolled on and now, over budget
and 40 years later, are 99.9% completed.

As the interstate system nears completion it enters into a new phase of
its history. On Nov. 28, 1995, President Clinton signed the National Highway
System Designation Act, which specifies 160,955 miles of roads as the National
Highway System (NHS) and incorporates these roads into a transportation
network. Clinton explains, "The designation of the NHS makes clear
that transportation infrastructure should be viewed as a single system with
each mode complementing the others. The NHS unites these different modes."

The interstates, as well as other important roads are included in NHS, which
carries 40% of all highway travel, including 70% of the nation's commercial
truck traffic. "The NHS is going to be the backbone of our national
transportation network in the 21st century," said Federal Highway Administrator Rodney E. Slater.

This legislation freed up $5.4 billion of fiscal year 1996 funds to be distributed
to the states where it is intended to be used to help improve and maintain
NHS roads, in addition to other important transportation infrastructure.
It also continues the efforts of men like Eisenhower who workedto establish
a national network of interconnecting highways.

About the Author

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