Rocking across the Texas component of I-10 at 80 miles per hour dodging wind generator replacement blades and hundreds of semis set sailing across lanes by serious, mesa driven crosswinds turned my mind to the Interstate Highway System today. It is one of the legacies of the Cold War (1947-1991) that isn’t. Although President George H. W. Bush’s signature on October 15th, 1990 signed the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways bill into law, Eisenhower was just scratching an itch that several presidents before him had felt. Rather than a serious strategic push, the 46,876 mile-long Interstate system was recognition of the need to connect the country for future growth and a public works project that employed thousands of military personnel returning from World War II.
Many young people, like my grandsons, just assume that the highway system has always been here, it’s always been easy to get from here to there and have never questioned why. The scoop is that the need for proper roads has been recognized from the country’s beginnings. In 1785, George Washington, a land surveyor and out first president said, “The credit, the saving, and convenience of this country all require that our great roads leading from one public place to another should be straightened and established by law . . . To me these things seem indispensably necessary.” Post roads were included as part of the federal government’s responsibilities in the U.S. Constitution; Article I, Section 8, Clause 7.
President Roosevelt knew that the soldiers would need jobs after WWII and his experience with the road construction he spearheaded as Governor of New York certainly contributed to his interest in the early studies of the Interstate System as a possible employment vehicle. In 1944, Roosevelt signed the law to select an Interstate System. Truman, upon his assumption of presidential responsibility, agreed with Roosevelt on the need for an interstate system. Truman had once led the National Old Trails Road Association that promoted a road across the country on famous roads of the past. Once he became a Jackson County, Missouri official, Truman built a network of concrete roads. The problem was babies. Many, many babies were born after the WWII so most of the construction industry focused on building houses for the rapidly growing families. Road construction would wait for the Eisenhower administration.
Eisenhower was itching to get into the battlefield in WWI but was consigned to a career busting training job. He taught soldiers how to use tanks, a new weapon no one was certain had any application. Eisenhower was considering resigning because he thought his career was over. After all, he had not been able to check the WWI ‘in-theater’ box for promotion and, in most circumstances, that means that career planning in the private sector was in order. U.S. Army’s Cross-Country Motor Transport Train, a plan was to send a convoy of 80 or so trucks and other military vehicles across the country. Continue reading