Research shows life is a highway

Research shows impact of America's Interstates on pop culture as the U.S. Interstate Highway System turns 50 this week

News ARTBA June 23, 2006
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America 's transportation network, anchored by 46,000 miles of Interstate highways and nearly 56,000 Interstate bridges, has inspired more than 500 popular songs and played a central role in more than 100 major motion pictures, according to recent research by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).

ARTBA conducted the Internet search to coincide with the upcoming June 29 50th anniversary of the U.S. Interstate Highway System, and to show how the road and bridge network influenced pop culture in the U.S.

The association's search for road songs drew such classics as:

• "Life is a Highway," Tom Cochrane;

• “On the Road Again,” Willie Nelson;

• "Long and Winding Road," The Beatles;

• "Thunder Road and Workin' on the Highway," Bruce Springsteen;

• "Take Me Home, Country Roads," John Denver;

• "Hit The Road, Jack," Ray Charles;

• "Divided Highway," Doobie Brothers;

• "Freeway of Love," Aretha Franklin;

• "Highway to Hell," AC/DC;

• "Too Many Highways," Merle Haggard; and

• "Interstate Love Song," Stone Temple Pilots.

American moviemakers have also used transportation and highway themes and backdrops over the past 50 years to both entertain and provoke serious thought. Examples include:

Thunder Road (1958): Bootleggers versus the Feds, with Robert Mitchum;

Easy Rider (1969): Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson in a classic search for America on motorcycle;

Smokey and the Bandit (1977): Burt Reynolds, Sally Field and Jackie Gleason embark on a cross-country car and truck chase;

Convoy (1978): Ali McGraw and Kris Kristofferson meet in this trucker-CB radio movie based on C.W. McCall's hit song of the same name;

The Cannonball Run (1981): A cross-country road race with Farrah Fawcett and Burt Reynolds;

National Lampoon's Vacation (1983): Chevy Chase and his family hit the road for Wally World;

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987): An intermodal comedy featuring Steve Martin and John Candy;

Thelma and Louise (1991): Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis hit the highway, but take a wrong turn; and

Road Trip (2000): Tom Green and Seann William Scott teen comedy features road trip from Ithaca, N.Y. to Texas.

"Most of us take this incredible transportation network and our Interstate highways for granted," said ARTBA Senior Vice President of Communications and Marketing Matt Jeanneret. "We only tend to focus on it when repair work or traffic congestion inconveniences us. But when you take the time to think about it, you realize the enormous impacts the Interstate system has on the American culture, economy and quality of life. Movies and music are a good reflection of that."

Jeanneret pointed out that the U.S. transportation construction industry has designed and built 3.9 million miles of American roads, including the Interstate System; 5,400 airports; 200,000 miles of U.S. freight and passenger railway; 5,800 miles of urban mass transit lines with more that 2,300 stations; and 360 American ports.

Each year, he says, the nation's transportation infrastructure handles almost 5 trillion miles of personal travel—an average 15,000 miles per year per American—and more than $9 trillion worth of freight.

According to Jeanneret, the roadway network alone has an asset value of almost $1.4 trillion, which is about 10 times the collective asset value of all computers used in the U.S.

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