Highway Map

Copyright 2006, Traffic World, Inc.

In looking across the Interstate Highway System that was launched 50 years ago this summer, anyone concerned with logistics and transportation can find 46,508 miles worth of reasons to be thankful for an unprecedented project to build the nation''s transportation infrastructure. More important, however, is that they can find a road map for how the nation''s transport networks should be managed and improved for years to come.

It''s a road map the nation''s shippers and carriers should be handing to Congress.

The idea for the Interstate Highway System was born in 1919 during a dusty, two-month trip that took a military convoy from Washington to San Francisco.

A young lieutenant colonel on that 62-day journey, Dwight D. Eisenhower, remembered that grueling experience more than 25 years later when he saw the impact of Germany''s autobahn on that country.

Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act on June 29, 1956 and created, with a nod to its origins in that infamous 1919 convoy, the "National Defense Highway System." It helped extend the country''s post-World War II economic boom and take the economy and even our national identity into entirely new areas.

"Together, the united forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bare - United States," Eisenhower said in 1955. "Without them, we should be a mere alliance of many separate parts."

Eisenhower made the link between highway and communications networks four decades before the analogy became a part of our shared lexicon. And that''s the important thing: the Interstate Highway System isn''t merely 46,000 miles of concrete; it''s an embodiment of a sense of national will and common purpose, an optimistic view of a better future.

Shortly after President Eisenhower signed the law creating the Interstate Highway System, estimates were it would cost $37.6 billion to complete the freeway map. By 1991, the most recent year a full estimate was available, the cost had grown to $128.9 billion. But the national economy has also boomed, growing from $400 billion in 1956 to $12.5 trillion last year.

Interstates make up just 1 percent of the nation''s roads but 41 percent of the truck miles traveled, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. The vast system serves as a kind of pact that cuts across states and regions.

Unfortunately, there''s little sense of common purpose in the discussion about transportation infrastructure these days. The last highway bill sent the country a couple exits past national unity and reports that the speaker of the House took in a big profit through one $200 million earmark took us further down a road heading in the wrong direction.

Surely President Eisenhower left that road map around here somewhere.

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