Long before his presidency, Dwight D. Eisenhower recognized the importance of highways and became convinced that the United States needed a good system for defense and commerce. In 1919, he accompanied an army convoy from Washington, DC to San Francisco. The trip took 62 days and was a considerable challenge - experiencing all the woes known to motorists and then an endless series of mechanical difficulties.

The Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways, from its inception to its fulfillment as the foundation for the National Highway System, has more than achieved its founder's expectations. It has proven to be invaluable to the competitiveness of the United States in the global marketplace. It has provided an efficient means of travel to the American public, allowed the growth of a highly efficient trucking industry, and formed a transport infrastructure foundation for the nation's economic growth and development.

The Interstate Highway Act did more to bring Americans together than any other law. The construction of 41,000 miles of highway was a monumental challenge. Construction of the interstate system moved slowly. Its success would depend on many factors, not the least of which was BI-partisan political support and a cooperative alliance among state and federal agencies.

Many states did not wish to divert federal-aid funds from local needs. Others complained that the standards were too high. Some of the heavily populated states, finding that federal-aid funding was so small in comparison with need, decided to authorize construction of toll roads in the interstate corridors. Also, by July 1950, the United States was again at war, this time in Korea, and the focus of the highway program shifted from civilian to military needs.

The interstate system has served its purposes well. In many cases, anticipated usage levels were reached as much as a decade earlier than projected. The extensive system of roadways continues to grow to provide a rapid and efficient means of travel for America's mobile public.

The next 40 years would be filled with unexpected engineering challenges, unanticipated controversies, and unforeseen funding difficulties. Nevertheless, the interstate system, and the federal-state partnership that built it, changed the face of America.


American Public Works Association
2345 Grand Boulevard, Suite 500,
Kansas City, MO 64108-2641
Phone: (816) 472-6100
Fax: (816) 472-1610
apwa@apwa.net

American Public Works Association
Washington Office

1401 K Street, NW, 11th Floor,
Washington, D.C. 20005
Phone: (202) 408-9541
Fax: (202) 408-9542
apwa.dc@apwa.net