Ramblings & ephemera

Origins of the interstate highway system

From Robert Sullivan’s “An Impala’s-Eye View of Highway History” (The New York Times: 14 July 2006):

Another traveler, Dwight D. Eisenhower, spent two months in 1919 driving a military convoy across the country; the shoddy roads left a lasting impression on him. After World War II he studied Hitler’s autobahn and concluded that the American military should have one. In 1956 he signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which, the president recounted in his memoir, resulted in enough concrete to build “six sidewalks to the moon.” The new highways were originally meant to loop around cities that could be skirted should they be destroyed by atomic bombs. Instead, the loops started a suburban construction boom that continues to this day. [Robert] Sullivan reports that Phoenix, a city that virtually rose out of the Interstate, currently gobbles up land at the rate of 1.2 acres per hour.

In the 1960’s state toll roads entered into the system, extending the web to all corners of the country. Today almost 47,000 miles of Interstate highways – with attendant motels, fast-food courts and construction projects – have paved over the continent with such efficiency that one can move from sea to shining sea with speed, economy and almost zero interpersonal interaction.

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