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Key Dates in the History of the Interstate Highway System


Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower participated in the first army transcontinental motor convoy. The expedition consisted of eighty-one motorized army vehicles that crossed the United States from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, a venture covering a distance of 3,251 miles in sixty-two days. The expedition was manned by 24 officers and 258 enlisted men. The convoy was to test the mobility of the military during wartime conditions. As an observer for the War Department, Eisenhower learned first-hand of the difficulties faced in traveling great distances on roads that were impassable, and that resulted in frequent breakdowns of the military vehicles. These early experiences influenced his later decisions concerning the building of the interstate highway system during his presidential administration.


General John “Blackjack” Pershing, who had been commander of U.S. forces in World War I, presented to Congress a map of a proposed national highway system. The nation had very few paved roads of any kind at the time.


The Bureau of Public Roads created a report, “Toll Roads and Free Roads,” that President Franklin Roosevelt relied on as a master plan for a system of interregional highways. The groundwork was being laid for the interstate highway system.


The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944 authorized the designation of up to 40,000 miles of interstate highway. No federal funds were earmarked for interstate highway construction. In the same year the Atlanta City Council commissioned H. W. Lochner Company of Chicago to study Atlanta traffic patterns and make recommendations for road construction, which would result in a plan for the Atlanta expressway system.


The 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act authorized 41,000 miles of interstate highways with 90 percent to be financed by the Highway Trust Fund and 10 percent by states.


The federal motor fuel tax was raised from three cents to four cents per gallon, increasing revenue to the Highway Trust Fund.


Congress expanded the designated interstate system to 42,500 miles.


The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1976 provided money to resurface, restore, and rehabilitate deteriorating segments of interstate highways that had reached their twenty-year designed life.

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