Friday, September 22, 2006

Ike’s Interstates

This article in the Summer 2006 issue of Prologue celebrates the 50th anniversary of the interstate system. President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act into law in 1956. Two of the reasons that President Eisenhower cited to Congress were some of his own experiences, a 1919 convoy and his experience on the German roads.

In the summer of 1919, a young lieutenant colonel Eisenhower was part of a convoy to road-test US army vehicles and to see how easy it would be to cross the continent. The convoy averaged 6 miles an hour and it took them 62 days to go just over 3000 miles. What did they notice about the roads?
  • Half the distance (specifically west of the Mississippi River) was all dirt roads, wheel paths, desert sands or mountain trails.
  • More than 230 recorded road accidents
  • Lots of quicksand and mud on the roads
  • Inadequate bridges
  • Lack of places to stop for food, bathing facilities, shelter, even good drinking water.
  • Eisenhower’s report after the trip noted that: "Extended trips by trucks through the middle western part of the United States are impracticable until the roads are improved and then only a light truck should be used on long hauls."

During World War II, Eisenhower saw a much different scenario. The autobahns in Germany made for easy troop movement, which impressed Eisenhower as he oversaw the invasion of Western Europe. The article quotes Eisenhower: "The old convoy had started me thinking about good, two-lane highways, but Germany had made me see the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land."

Today’s interstate system is now 46, 876 miles long – thanks to the experiences of President Eisenhower that made him make an interstate system a priority of his administration. So go explore more about Eisenhower and his interstate system!

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