June 29, 2020


The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, was enacted on June 29, 1956, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill into law.


Imagine our country today without the expressways, freeways, and tollways that make up the Interstate system. We’d still be getting our kicks on Route 66. We’d be driving through crowded city streets trying to make our way across town. The eastern half of the country would rarely know more than a speed limit higher than 55 MPH.

Without the Interstates there’s a good chance that Main Street of small towns would be thriving. Would the large department store chains be prevalent? Would we have malls?

Someone famous once quipped the Interstate highway system allowed an average American to drive from New York to Los Angeles in record time and not see a thing along the way.

As a certified “road geek” and one that went to school for Civil Engineering specifically to contribute to better roads in the United States, the Interstate highway system has always fascinated me. Some of the expressway I knew as a kid in Syracuse, New York predated the Interstate system. These expressways “grew up” with me; the older, early 1950s designs gave way to modern alignments, more lanes, and faster traffic. Signs became more reflective and more plentiful. Decisions were made as how to standardize the way interchanges were numbered, and restaurants and fuel stops were purposely left off the federally funded Interstate highways to encourage motorists to go into town to grab something to eat and fuel up the car. Of course, capitalism decided to abandon the nearby town center and instead build a truck stop alongside the interchange.

The Interstate system made the country more accessible for us all and it encouraged those with the means to abandon the city centers and develop the suburbs. We drove 55 MPH on roadways designed for 85 MPH in the name of energy conservation. We eschewed riding the rails in favor of the independence associated with owning an automobile. We’re able to get our deliveries in Prime Time, and we’re able to drive from coast to coast in record time.

Follow the Red, White, and Blue Interstate route marker to freedom.

As nifty as the Interstate system is, as I get older I want to take the back roads. Earl and I will be driving along a two-lane road on the Illinois Prairie and I’ll see a small green sign that says “Business District —>”. I say, “let’s go see what’s left in this town”. And we’ll drive off the beaten path and see a bank, a Masonic Lodge, a few small shops, and maybe a laundromat.

Americana at its best.

Yes, you can see the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet at a record pace courtesy of the Interstate system. I’m happy it’s there.

But I’ll pull over, stop, and take a look around once in a while.