Roads. Nebraska railroad crossing, 1920s. Copyright National Council on Economic Education. Photo: Nebraska Department of Roads

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1 Roads By 1912, most large cities had decent roads, some were even paved. Property owners were taxed to help pay for the improvements. Outside the cities, however, was a very different story. Less than ten percent of rural roads had an improved surface: gravel, brick, shells, oiled earth, etc. Most rural roads were little more than muddy trails that were impassable in bad weather. With railroads dominating interstate transportation, roadways were primarily of local interest and considered a luxury, something used mostly by wealthy people in their automobiles. Nebraska railroad crossing, 1920s Photo: Nebraska Department of Roads

2 President Woodrow Wilson s Lincoln Highway Association Card.,1913 Lincoln Highway The First Transcontinental Highway As interest in automobiles grew and became affordable to more people, citizens began to call for better roads. Carl Fisher, a manufacturer of the headlights used on most early cars and an auto racer, dreamed of a coast to coast paved highway. With friends from the auto industry, In 1913, Fisher established the Lincoln Highway Association to collect private contributions for an improved highway that would be available for use free of tolls. The Association marked out a route and funded sample stretches of pavement called seedling miles to encourage local governments to build the rest. The route was fully paved in the 1930s. Stretching from New York City to San Francisco, it is now the same general corridor as Interstate 80. Painting: Federal Highway Administration Membership Card: T the Smithsonian Institution

3 One year after the Lincoln Highway Association was formed; Fisher started promoting a second highway to connect the Midwest to the South. The Dixie Highway is a network of interconnected paved roads versus a single highway that extended from Montreal, Canada to Miami, Florida. Individuals, businesses as well as local and state governments, funded it. Fisher believed the two projects would demonstrate the value of highways to the nation s agriculture and business. Dixie Highway Map: Western Kentucky University

4 The first highway project completed under the 1916 Federal Aid Road Act extended 2.55 miles from Albany to Richmond, California. At about the same time, the federal government was starting to recognize the importance of improved roads to the national economy. In 1916, Congress allocated millions of dollars to improving roads in rural areas. States were asked to match these funds. The result was a highway building boom across the nation. Painting: Federal Highway Administration

5 Army convoy, 1919 Even the military got involved! The U.S. Army decided to organize a convoy of motor vehicles that would travel from Washington, DC to San Francisco during the summer of 1919, one purpose of the trip was to highlight the inadequacy of the nation s roads. Take a virtual trip to learn more about the road conditions of the time and the challenges presented to the military on the cross country trip. How many days did the trip take? How many days do you think the trip would take today? How many miles per hour was the convoy able to travel? How fast do people drive today in your neighborhood? On the highway? Photo:: Library of Congress

6 Army convoy, 1919 Even the military got involved! The U.S. Army decided to organize a convoy of motor vehicles that would travel from Washington, DC to San Francisco during the summer of 1919, one purpose of the trip was to highlight the inadequacy of the nation s roads. Take a virtual trip to learn more about the road conditions of the time and the challenges presented to the military on the cross country trip. How many days did the trip take? 62 days How many days do you think the trip would take today? About 2 days driving nonstop How many miles per hour was the convoy able to travel? 6 miles per hour How fast do people drive today in your neighborhood? On the highway? Photo: Library of Congress

7 Building a concrete highway in 1930 During the 1920s and 1930s, the federal funding for improving rural roads increased. By 1935, more than a third of rural roads were surfaced, and many were paved with concrete and asphalt for motor traffic. Urban improvements remained the responsibility of the states and cities. Politicians debated and engineers studied the idea of linking America s cities by a system of high speed national highways with access limited to a few interchange points. The system would support national defense and economic growth. With America on the verge of joining the war in Europe, however, the time for a massive highway program had not arrived. Photo: Federal Highway Administration

8 Celebrating the first project funded by the 1956 Highway Act Artist's conception of interstate highway standards approved in After World War II, many factories supplying wartime needs switched to the production of automobiles. But roads built in the 1930's were inadequate for the faster, wider cars of the 1950's. There was also the number of cars on the road, nearly 50 million! Roads were widened, straightened, and divided. But it was not enough. President Eisenhower signed the 1956 Federal Aid Highway Act authorizing construction of a highway system with uniform design that would accommodate traffic for the next 20 years. Photos: Federal Highway Administration

9 Current map of the National Highway System The system was designed for speeds of up to 70 miles per hour and to reach every city with a population of more than 100,000. Access to the system would be limited to interchanges identified in the original plan or later approved by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. The federal government was to provide 90 percent of the funding, mostly from gasoline taxes, and each state would provide the rest. Essentially completed by 1980, this interactive map shows what the system looked like before, during and after construction

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