A reason to celebrate

July 2006 » Editor's Comment
Perhaps you’ve heard that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. What you may not have known is that the FHA launched a website devoted to celebrating the anniversary.
Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.

Perhaps you’ve heard that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. What you may not have known is that the Federal Highway Administration launched a website devoted to celebrating the anniversary (www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate)—and that it is really cool! The website includes history, an art gallery of historic American roads, frequently asked questions about the interstate, and more. One section that I found most interesting is the Interstate Myths; here are some examples from it:

Myth: President Eisenhower conceived the interstate system. The interstate system was first described in a Bureau of Public Roads report to Congress in 1939. President Eisenhower didn’t conceive the interstate system, but his support led to enactment of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which established the program for funding and building it.

Myth: Defense was the primary reason for the interstate system. The primary justifications for the interstate system were civilian in nature. In the midst of the Cold War, the Department of Defense supported the interstate system and congress added the words "and Defense" to its official name in 1956. However, the program was so popular for its civilian benefits that the legislation would have passed even if defense had not been a factor.

Myth: One in five miles of the interstate system is straight so airplanes can land in emergencies. This myth is widespread on the Internet and in reference sources, but has no basis in law, regulation, design manual—or fact.

Additionally, I found some particularly interesting information in the Interstate Facts of the Day section of the website. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Half of the 41,000-mile interstate system was open by the end of 1965.
  • The average daily traffic on all Interstate bridges is 1.9 billion vehicles.
  • The Pennsylvania Turnpike is sometimes called the "Grandfather of the interstate system." It initially had no speed limit. Motorists who asked the toll-booth attendants about the speed limit were told simply, "Drive carefully." (A 70-mph speed limit was imposed in April 1941.)
  • The longest interstate highway is I-90, stretching 3,085 miles from Boston to Seattle. The nation’s longest road is U.S. 20, a 3,365-mile route from Boston to Newport, Ore.
  • The interstate system includes 55,512 bridges and 82 tunnels.
  • Texas has more interstate miles than any state (3,233 miles), but New York has the most Interstate Routes (29).
  • Which interstate highway crosses the most states? The answer is I-95, which crosses 15 states and the District of Columbia.

Congratulations to the men and women among CE News’ readership who have helped design, construct, and maintain this significant roadway network, which is essential to our nation’s economy and connecting our lives.


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