The US Interstate Highway System if often taken for granted. To many of us this expansive network of freeways covering over 48,440 miles and accounting for about one-quarter of all vehicle miles driven in the country might seem mundane. But the Interstate Highway System’s creation was in fact monumental. Certainly among the greatest American construction and civil engineering feats, unprecedented in both scale and rigor, it is a testament to the sheer collective and economic power of the United States, serving as its infrastructural bloodstream. This post is dedicated to marking its historical origins and importance, and is our tribute to the system that underpins our business including.
The United States government’s efforts to construct a national network of highways began on an ad hoc basis with the passage of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916, which provided $75 million over a five-year period for matching funds to the states for the construction and improvement of highways. Yet the nation’s expenditures associated with World War I, prevented any significant implementation of this policy, which expired in 1921.
In December 1918, E. J. Mehren, a civil engineer and the editor of Engineering News-Record, presented his “A Suggested National Highway Policy and Plan” during a gathering of the State Highway Officials and Highway Industries Association at the Congress Hotel in Chicago. In his plan, Mehren proposed a 50,000-mile system, consisting of five east–west routes and 10 north–south routes. The system would include two percent of all roads and would pass through every state at a cost of $25,000 per mile, providing commercial as well as military transport benefits.
Meanwhile, in 1919 the U.S. Army sent an expedition across the U.S. to determine the difficulties that military vehicles would have on a cross-country trip. Leaving from the Ellipse near the White House on July 7, the Motor Transport Corps convoy needed 62 days to drive 3,200 miles on the Lincoln Highway to the Presidio army base on San Francisco Bay. They experienced significant difficulties including rickety bridges, broken crankshafts, and engines clogged with desert sand.
Dwight Eisenhower, then a 28-year-old lieutenant, accompanied the trip “through darkest America with truck and tank,” as he later described it. Some roads in the West were a “succession of dust, ruts, pits, and holes” he noted. Eisenhower recalled that, “The old convoy had started me thinking about good two-lane highways… the wisdom of broader ribbons across our land.”
The Interstate Highway System ga