2016 is the 60th anniversary of the interstate highway system in the United States.
Back in 1919, a young lieutenant colonel named Dwight Eisenhower traveled with a truck convoy “to road-test various Army vehicles and to see how easy or how difficult it would be to move an entire army across the North American continent.
“Averaging about 6 miles an hour, or 58 miles a day, the trucks snaked their way from Washington, [DC]… to California. Generally, it followed the ‘Lincoln Highway,’ later known as U.S. 30, arriving in San Francisco 62 days and 3,251 miles later. The convoy made a lasting impression on the young officer and stoked in him an interest in good roads.”
“On June 29, 1956, President Eisenhower signed the…bill [which] created a 41,000-mile ‘National System of Interstate… Highways’ that would… eliminate unsafe roads, inefficient routes, traffic jams, and all of the other things that got in the way of ‘speedy, safe transcontinental travel.’ At the same time, highway advocates argued, “in case of atomic attack on our key cities, the road network [would] permit quick evacuation of target areas.”
From here: “Although the Interstate System accounts for about 1.1 percent of the Nation’s total public road mileage, it carries 24 percent of all highway travel.”
One of those odd factoids I knew: “The numbering system used for interstates is intended to be the mirror opposite of the U.S. highway system, so drivers won’t be confused about whether to take Highway 70 or Interstate 70. For example, I-10 runs through southern states east-west (as all major even-numbered interstates do; odd-numbered interstates run north-south), while Highway 10 runs through northern states. Because I-50 would run through the same states as Route 50, the number will never be used.”
On vacation, we were traveled on Route 17, which is becoming I-86. But I was actually stunned to see I-99 near Painted Post, west of I-81, and well west of I-87 and I-95. It was a pork-barrel project of some Congressman, including the illogical numbering.
The large problem with the interstate highway system today is how to pay to repair roadways and bridges. The traditional source, the federal Highway Trust Fund, relies on the 18.4-cent federal gas tax, which has not grown with inflation. But there is no political will to do something about it.