Little Bits of History

June 29

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 29, 2017

1956: The US passes the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. It was also called the Highway Construction Act and the National Interstate and Defense Highway Act. Public Law 84-627 was signed by President Dwight D Eisenhower and began a nationwide road improvement. The law set aside $25 billion (about $225 billion today) in order to build 41,000 miles of the Interstate Highway System. The time frame given in the law was ten years. It was the largest public works project in American history up to that time. The “defense” in the short title was a nod to the funding since some of the cost was diverted from defense funding. It was also to give most US Air Force bases a direct link to the system.

Monies were put into the Highway Trust Fund for federal spending. This paid for 90% of the cost with each state making up the other 10% for the roads built within their borders. It was expected funds would be generated by new taxes placed on fuel, cars and trucks, and tires. The federal portion of the funding had come from taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel. The Highway Trust Fund continues to collect taxes (18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel) as well as excise taxes. It is divided into two accounts, one for road construction and surface transportation projects and a second one for supporting mass transit. The original fund was created on this day with the mass transit portion beginning in 1982. Taxes on fuel brings in over $30 billion per year.

In the early 1900s, road construction was undertaken locally and roads were built as needed by the communities needing them. In 1916, the first federal acts was passed in order to bring some cohesiveness to the highway system, but World War I interfered and little was done and the project’s end date came with little improvement overall. Another act was immediately passed allocating more funds to be matched by the states. General John Pershing created a map of what he and the US Army considered to be necessary interconnected primary highways. Some roads were built, others were not. Eisenhower had had to cross the nation on the old highways in 1919 and remembered with dread the difficulty of the trip. He became a champion for creating a true system of roads.

Missouri claims to have the first three contracts under the new law and they included upgrades to US Route 66 and what is today called Interstate 44, they also began work on US 40 (now I-70). Kansas claims to have been the first state to start paving roadways. They had preliminary work done prior to the signing of the bill and paving began on September 26, 1956 on what is now I-70. Pennsylvania also makes a claim for their Turnpike to be considered the first Interstate Highway. On October 1, 1940 a stretch of 162 miles of highway opened between Irwin and Carlisle. Although only to run for ten years, Nebraska was the first state to complete all of its mainline interstate highways – in 1974. Although it was proclaimed complete in 1992, both I-95 and I-70 are not continuous paths.

You come to Washington, there’s a rail bill, there’s a highway bill, there’s a aviation bill. But when you go home, there’s an airport, there’s a highway, there’s a rail, there’s transit. It all has to work together. – Anthony Foxx

Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything. – Charles Kuralt

I’ve seen every highway in the United States, and they all look alike to me. – Loretta Lynn

When I’m driving the highway by myself is when I write best. – Willie Nelson