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"Clearly Vicious as a Matter of Policy": The Fight Against Federal-Aid
PART FOUR: President Eisenhower Takes Charge (Page 2 of 5)
Commissioner of Public Roads
In April and May 1953, the Subcommittee on Roads of the House Committee on Public Works held hearings on National highway needs. In inviting witnesses to testify, Chairman J. Harry McGregor (R-Oh.) asked each witness to be prepared to comment on 12 issues:
- Proposal of governors' conference that the Federal Government relinquish the tax on motor fuel in favor of the States.
- Proposal of governors' conference that the activities of the Bureau of Public Roads be curtailed.
- Proposal that Federal motor-fuel taxes be deposited in a trust fund for highway purposes.
- Proposal for the extension of turnpikes and toll roads as well as transcontinental superhighways.
- Proposal to increase funds for interstate system of highways.
- Possible participation by the Federal Government in maintenance and repair costs.
- Comparison of administrative and engineering expenditures for highway purposes in the various States.
- Direct local effects of constructing highways which bypass urban areas - benefits or detriments?
- Proper allocation methods with respect to access roads. (Defense plants - timber access - mineral resources and the like.)
- The relationship of existing highways to military and civilian defense requirements necessary to meet an emergency.
- Coordination by Federal agencies in the planning and construction of roads through national parks, forests, Indian reservations, and other Government-owned land.
- The effect of heavy vehicle traffic on the highway specifications and construction costs. Present highway safety programs and means for increasing their effectiveness. Miscellaneous legislative proposals to improve the Federal-aid highway program.242
One of the initial witnesses was the head of BPR, but for the first time since 1919, he was not Thomas H. MacDonald. In 1951, MacDonald had reached the government's mandatory retirement age of 70 and had, therefore, retired. Because of the Korean War, President Truman persuaded MacDonald to stay on as interim head of the BPR for the duration. This request reflected the President's sense that in an emergency, it would be best to retain MacDonald, the most respected man, nationally and internationally, in his field.
Two months after the start of the Eisenhower Administration, MacDonald retired on March 31 at the request of Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks. In speaking to the press prior to leaving office, MacDonald stressed the importance of the Federal-State partnership he had done so much to create and sustain:
[It] is a workable plan to accomplish a continuing program that involves both local and national services; second, it sets a pattern in harmony with the concepts of federal government.
Speaking of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916, he told reporters:
[It] recognized the sovereignty of the states and the authority retained by the states to initiate projects. All through the legislation since then, the same mechanism of checks and balances has been maintained evenly so that the states and the federal government both have to agree before they can accomplish a positive program.
The condition of the Nation's roads was, as ever, on his mind. Much of the original Federal-aid system had been surfaced by the mid-1930s, but only to the standards for that period. As he said during his last speech to AASHO as Commissioner, that "is ample evidence that highways today are only fractionally as adequate for today's traffic demands as they were two decades ago." Less than 25 percent of the Interstate System was adequate for modern traffic (adopting the view that construction of the Interstate System would mean upgrading the current road to meet Interstate standards). About 16 percent of the System was "critically deficient."
To meet growing needs, he told reporters:
It is logical to borrow for important needs and to retire the borrowings from user income. By setting aside the income from a fraction - say a cent of the gasoline tax, there is an assured fund that can be used to retire bonds.
His view on toll roads was cautious:
Financing toll roads with bonds paid for entirely out of revenue [tolls collected on the road] can lead us into a dangerous situation. Only certain stretches of heavy traffic roads, like the New Jersey Turnpike, can be self supporting on that basis.
Issuing bonds backed by earmarked gasoline tax receipts was one way of paying the difference between bond charges and toll collections.
MacDonald told the reporters that the Federal Government collected $800 million a year in fuel tax revenue but provided funds to the States at a rate of only $575 million. He thought it "desirable to equate federal aid to federal gas tax revenues." He was not, however, convinced that all Federal highway user tax revenues should be dedicated to highways, citing excise taxes on such products as perfume and alcoholic beverages as examples of taxes levied simply to meet government expenses. "Take the cigarette tax," he explained. "I don't know how you would apply its proceeds for the benefit of cigarette users."
MacDonald stayed in Washington only 1 more day. On April 1, 1953, he looked on as Secretary Weeks administered the oath of office to the new Commissioner of Public Roads, Francis V. du Pont. That same day, MacDonald left for College Station, Texas, where he would work part time to help Texas A&M University develop a transportation institute in collaboration with the Texas highway department.244
Engineering News-Record commented that, "The Bureau of Public Roads is a monument to MacDonald."245 The man who was to take control of that monument had once followed in the footsteps of another great man. In that case, the great man had been his father, T. Coleman du Pont, the wealthy engineer and good roads advocate who had been active in the National Highways Association and the push for the Townsend Bill in 1919 to 1921.
Du Pont, like his father, had graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (in 1917). In 1922, he became a member of the Delaware State Highway Commission and remained on the commission until 1949, serving as its Chairman for 23 years. During those years, he converted his father's highway into a divided highway from Wilmington to Dover, which one historian, John B. Rae, has called "the first important arterial highway to adopt the dual roadway technique."246 Du Pont also played a major role in planning the Delaware Memorial Bridge. When it opened in 1951, the bridge was the longest suspension span in the world. As Secretary Weeks said in announcing the appointment, du Pont was "nationally recognized as one of the foremost administrators of public highways in America."247
In early interviews, du Pont opposed "earmarking" or linkage of Federal highway user taxes for road purposes, quoting Governor Thomas E. Dewey (R-NY) on the subject: "Would you use the revenue from alcoholic taxes for the benefit of alcoholics?" Du Pont also opposed the dissipation of large portions of the Federal highway budget for secondary roads. He favored the use of Federal revenue for the primary intercity highway system, particularly where local tax collections were insufficient. However, he thought toll highways were satisfactory where traffic was heavy enough to support the bonds.
Asked by a reporter why he was coming out of retirement to return to public life, the wealthy du Pont did not reply directly but did say, "I can assure you I'm not in it to make a living." Du Pont, who served without pay as chief highway executive in Delaware, added, "I don't even know what the job pays." The annual salary was $16,000.248
As for taking over the BPR, he said, "I'm going to do an awful lot of looking." He promised to devote a large share of his time to building on the BPR's relationship with the State highway agencies to obtain full support for national highway policy. Du Pont also intended to make an intensive survey of the BPR to improve its economy and efficiency.
Despite the respect du Pont had earned within the highway community, doubt existed about the future of the BPR. Secretary Weeks had strong views on who would be setting policy within the Department of Commerce. It would not be bureau heads.
Departmental Order No. 128, signed by Secretary Weeks on February 13, 1953, created an "Under Secretary of Commerce for Transportation." The Under Secretary was to be "the principal adviser to the Secretary on all policy matters concerning transportation within the Department and on all matters concerning the transportation policies of the Government." He would also, "Exercise direction and supervision of the... Bureau of Public Roads... " as well as the other transportation-related agencies within the Department (Weather Bureau, Coast and Geodetic Survey, Inland Waterways Corporation, BPR, Civil Aeronautics Administration, Maritime Administration, and the Federal Maritime Board). Moreover, all the authority and program functions vested in the head of the BPR and the other Agencies, "are hereby made subject to the supervision and coordination of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Transportation."
As Engineering News-Record explained, more than half of the Commerce Department's budget went for the Federal-aid highway program. "Secretary Weeks has no intention of letting that amount of money go out without supervision from the top."249
In short, du Pont would not have the control that MacDonald, with his years of service and mammoth reputation, had enjoyed during his service to six Presidents. This change in the BPR's role was acceptable to du Pont. Later in the year, in his first address to AASHO as Commissioner, du Pont said:
As you well know, Public Roads is purely an administrative agency. It has no policy making role or legislative responsibility. These are the joint responsibility of the Administration and the Congress.250
The Hearings on the Road Question
The Subcommittee on Roads of the House Committee on Public Works opened its hearings on April 14, 1953.
Under Secretary of Commerce for Transportation Robert B. Murray was the first witness. (Weeks had intended to testify on the first day but another commitment prevented him from doing so.) Murray, a banker from Pennsylvania, had been president of the Pennsylvania Economy League for 7 years. The league had studied all phases of government operations related to highways "because of the seriousness to Pennsylvania of the highway situation."
Chairman McGregor asked Murray if Department Order No. 128 was a move, as rumored, to do away with the BPR. Murray replied:
I have no knowledge of such a movement and I think if there were such a movement, it would have no sympathy in the Department... I can tell you, Mr. Chairman, that there is not even any consideration of it. I have not even heard the rumor. I thought I heard most of the rumors around Washington, but that is one that I have not heard.
He added that, "Mr. du Pont and I have known each other for a long time and I am sure that we are not going to have any trouble." Murray deferred to Commissioner du Pont on other issues and on the questions Chairman McGregor had asked witnesses to address.
Du Pont, the second witness, indicated that while he was reviewing the organization, operations, and policies of the BPR, "we are not prepared to make specific comment on the committee's inquiries so far as they relate to policy matters." He would restrict his statement to presenting "such facts as we have at hand."
Turning to the Chairman's questionnaire, du Pont addressed the first two questions, regarding the Governors' Conference recommendations that the Federal Government relinquish the gas tax and curtail the BPR's activities:
I doubt that there has been a time in the long life of the Bureau of Public Roads where there have been so many and divergent opinions voiced as to the role of the Federal Government in our highway program. These philosophies range all the way from complete return to the States of highway responsibility and withdrawal of the Federal Government from the gasoline tax picture, to continuance of the present plan, to linkage between the aid to States and the total gas tax collection, even to the view that all the excise taxes now collected in the area of transportation be allocated to the Federal-aid to highways program. The whole problem is so intricate and the effects of any ultimate choice of a plan will be so far-reaching that I feel it demands more time than we have had to arrive at a firm conclusion.
Further, any plan finally adopted should be coordinated with the conclusions of the President's proposed Commission on Governmental Functions and Fiscal Resources. Du Pont declined to comment more specifically on the first two questions, although he indicated that the BPR would carry on as in the past.
As for the Interstate System, du Pont stressed its importance:
It is an important link in the production facilities of this country, forming as it does part of a grand-scale industrial assembly line. Uninterrupted highway transportation over this system is essential to our defense effort and to our peacetime economy.
The "great importance of this system," he said, would justify increased funding, which he thought should be distributed on a population basis. However, he also thought that any funds should be apportioned in a way that allowed the States to make "equal progress in its improvement."
Secretary Weeks testified on April 27. "Not being an expert on roads," Weeks said he did not have a formal statement. The Chairman's first question was about Department Order No. 128. The Secretary replied: "There is nothing intended or implied, so far as I know, in that directive that in any way, shape, or manner tends toward any watering down, so to speak, of the Bureau of Public Roads. My conception is that they will go on operating as they have, carrying out the program which is placed before them by the Congress."
The more than 50 witnesses who addressed the committee represented every aspect of the highway transportation community. As du Pont's comments suggested, they were sharply divided on the issues Chairman McGregor had asked them to discuss.
Responses to the Governors' proposal to eliminate the Federal tax on motor fuel illustrate this diversity. State Highway Commissioner Charles M. Ziegler of Michigan, speaking as president of AASHO, said that AASHO had several times suggested the Federal Government retire from the motor fuel tax, leaving it to the States. However, because Congress had chosen not to take that advice, AASHO at its annual meeting in 1952 had adopted a resolution stating that Federal-aid for highways should not be less than the receipts from the Federal gasoline tax.
Chairman McGregor asked where the funds for the Federal-aid program would come from if the Federal Government abandoned the gas tax to the States. Ziegler replied:
There are other finances in this picture, possibly, but it is a Federal department and we feel it certainly should be financed. Maybe this is not the thing to say, but we have confidence in you gentlemen that you might find the necessary funds to continue the Bureau.
McGregor commented, "It is a little difficult now to find funds even to balance the budget."
In response to a later question from the Chairman, Ziegler said, "If you turn that over to the States and get out of the 2-cent Federal gas tax, then that eliminates the request from Congress [to the States] for additional matching." The dialogue continued:
Mr. McGregor. Then you are of the opinion that we would not get any further requests from the State governments for Federal funds to match funds for highways?
Mr. Ziegler. Well, that is hard to say in other States. So far as our State is concerned, I do not believe you would.
Representative Fallon also asked about the States' reaction to a reduction of the Federal tax:
Mr. Fallon. Mr. Commissioner, do you feel that if the Federal Government would retire from taxing gasoline and oil there would be more money for the construction of roads?
Mr. Ziegler. I have an idea, and it is only my personal idea, that if right now the Federal Government were to retire from the field of the 2-cent gas tax the States generally would not pick it up and reenact it in their own local legislatures. In Michigan they had an increase which the legislative provided in 1951. I doubt if they would pick this up.
Mr. Fallon. To take my own State of Maryland, they have just increased the tax on gasoline. Do you not feel that a State legislature would be reluctant for political reasons - and that is what we have to deal with at home - to put this tax on gasoline on the State level, and that it might be a period of years and years before you ever reached a point where we would begin collecting additional gasoline tax?
Mr. Ziegler. That is right.
Greer of Texas testified that his State favored Federal withdrawal from the motor fuel taxes, as did State Road Commissioner H. K. Griffith of West Virginia and E. L. Schmidt, Secretary of Highways of Pennsylvania. Schmidt summarized the views of those who favored Federal withdrawal:
Federal Government should discontinue collecting taxes on gasoline which taxes should be the prerogative of the individual States with all the funds derived therefrom to be used only for highways and streets.
G. D. Hatfield, the chairman of New Mexico's State Highway Commission, testified in favor of retaining a Federal motor-fuel excise tax:
We favor the retention of a Federal motor-fuel excise tax as the most efficient and equitable means for collecting and distributing that portion of road-user fees which would be properly chargeable against interstate motor-vehicle usage, and to discharge the obligation of the Federal Government with respect to roads in Federal lands.
The Governors' Conference did not testify, but Governor Hugh Gregg of New Hampshire submitted a statement that Chairman McGregor entered into the record on June 10. As a member of the Governors' Conference, he said, he "wholeheartedly" supported the view that the Federal Government should retire from the field of motor-fuel taxation. The State legislature, he said, had adopted a resolution supporting this view.
Other groups that endorsed elimination of Federal motor fuel taxes included: AAA, the American Farm Bureau, the American Trucking Associations, the American Petroleum Institute, the Automobile Manufacturers Association, the National Association of Motor Bus Operators, the Texas Good Roads Association, and the Truck-Trailer Manufacturers Association. Support for the Federal motor fuel taxes came from the Mayors of Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Miami; the Director of Expressways for Milwaukee; the National Association of County Officials; the National Farmers Union, the National Grange; and Detroit's Superintendent of Public Works.
The statement by William A. Stinchcomb, Senior Vice President of AAA and Chairman of its Highway Committee, illustrates the sometimes contradictory views of witnesses. Stinchcomb stated that AAA supported acceleration of the Interstate System, which he called "the most important highway network in the country." Not only should funding be increased for Interstate construction, but the Federal share should be increased from 50 percent to 75 percent. These measures would "go a very long way toward ending the current rash of toll-road proposals," a long-time goal of AAA. Further, AAA supported continuation of the BPR and the Federal-aid highway program, but thought the program should focus only on roads of national significance in rural and urban areas.
At the same time, Stinchcomb stated:
It has traditionally been the view of the American Automobile Association that the field of motor fuel and motor-oil taxation should be the prerogative of the State and the State alone. The association therefore opposes Federal excise taxes on motor fuel and motor oil, believing that these excises interfere with the use of this field of taxation by the States for highway purposes.
As a policy matter, AAA believed that the Federal-aid highway program should be financed from general tax revenue because the benefits were to the Nation, not just to motorists. "We are getting our eggs all scrambled in this taxation field."
The Committee members questioned Stinchcomb about the implications of these positions. Representative John J. Dempsey (D-NM.) asked, "Do you think that the States would immediately each put on a 2-cent additional tax on gasoline?" Stinchcomb admitted, "I am impelled to say I do not."
Chairman McGregor stated, "If you take the 2-cent gasoline tax off, whether it is State or national, you are not going to have money to build roads." Stinchcomb did not agree, since the States would at least have revenue from present motor fuel taxes while general tax revenue would fund the Federal program.
Representative Thaddeus M. Machrowicz (D-Mi.) asked if AAA's view would change if the revenue from the Federal motor fuel tax were used "to a greater extent" for highway purposes:
Mr. Stinchcomb. Speaking clearly as a matter of fiscal policy and from the field of taxation, I would think that theoretically our position is sound.
Mr. McGregor. We are not dealing with theories, Mr. Stinchcomb.
Mr. Stinchcomb. Well, for heaven's sake then, if you are going to diminish the amount of Federal appropriations for highways, if you should come to the conclusion you would abandon your position [in support of] the excise tax on gasoline, then I would say at this meeting today, "Don't do it."
Unlike AAA, several others who favored ending the Federal motor fuel tax also favored curtailing the BPR's activities. For example, Pennsylvania's Secretary Schmidt said:
Pennsylvania is in favor of continuing the Bureau of Public Roads as a consulting and coordinating agency so that uniform standards of construction, maintenance, and traffic control may be continued. They are not required as an operating agency. This should result in a considerable saving in overhead costs to the federal Treasury.
For the most part, though, the witnesses endorsed continuation of the BPR without curtailment, many offering high praise of the Agency. Speaking on behalf of AASHO, Zeigler said:
The Bureau of Public Roads has played an important part in establishing the highway plant necessitated by the unprecedented growth of motor transportation. It has had a very beneficial and stabilizing effect on road policy in many of the States. Through its foresight important physical research and planning have been embarked upon by all of the States. With it, much of this factual information that is being presented today would not have been available. The Bureau of Public Roads had a strong influence in bringing about uniformity of practice in highway design and construction throughout the Nation. Only through uniformity of the Federal-aid systems of highways have we been able to bind together and to so greatly strengthen the economy of our Nation in this motor age.
It is equally important in view of the unprecedented increase in traffic and rapid development of improved types of motor vehicles that these national systems of highways be expanded and redeveloped on a generally uniform basis throughout the Nation through the coordination which the Bureau of Public Roads now furnishes and should continue to furnish.
Governor Gregg also favored continuation of the BPR:
It is our belief that the Bureau of Public Roads has been a fine example of a sound and progressive agency and that under any conditions it must continue to coordinate the interstate system and major portions of the primary and urban systems since these are of national importance.
Some of the other comments on the BPR:
Mayor Thomas A. Burke of Cleveland: It is hard for me to understand why there should be any suggestions for such curtailment... I would think there would be every argument for enlargement of its role, if only for the protection of the public in securing the very best standards of road construction on this national system.
Commissioner George G. Hyland, Department of Public Works, Boston: I wish to state that I feel that the Bureau of Public Roads has done more than any other single agency to promote a safe, adequate highway system throughout the country.
Raleigh W. Gamble, Director of Expressways, Milwaukee: I do not know how we would get along without the engineering and research material that is coming out, and the cooperation of the Bureau.
Major General Ike Ashburn, Texas Good Roads Association: We believe it is essential that the Bureau of Public Roads activities be continued because only in that way can we achieve and maintain an integrated program of highway construction for national defense.
ARBA, the American Trucking Associations, the Associated General Contractors of America, and the Department of the Army were among the others who endorsed continuation of the BPR.
Some witnesses, such as Mayor Alexander M. Clark of Indianapolis, favored retaining the BPR but limiting its activities "for economy reasons" to such activities as the handling and direction of the funds placed in trust and coordinating defense activities with regard to highways. The city and State could do the highway construction work "more economically and efficiently at a local level and it will also tend to cut down on bureaucratic spending." When asked for examples of waste, he indicated, "I do not know too much about what their personnel problem is, or what their functions are," adding "the only information I would have might be hearsay, and I could not put my finger on it." Similarly, the legislative counsel of the National Grange, J. T. Sanders, favored curtailing the activities of the BPR so it would serve only as a coordinating agency for the States.
The third issue raised by the Chairman, whether to deposit Federal motor fuel taxes in a trust fund for highway purposes, also received a split reaction. Some who favored repeal of the taxes also opposed creation of a trust fund. Others, including Ziegler on behalf of AASHO, favored repeal but suggested that if repeal did not occur, the Federal-aid highway program should be funded at the same level as the gas tax revenues. He did not specifically endorse a trust fund for highway purposes, but others, including Governor Gregg, believed it would be desirable:
If the Congress does not see fit to relinquish the tax on motor fuel in favor of the States, the proposal that the Federal motor-fuel taxes be deposited in a trust fund for highway purposes is good.
Cleveland Mayor Burke preferred to see funding levels "left to an annual review by an elected body."
Groups and individuals endorsing a trust fund included the American Municipal Association, Mayor Clark of Indianapolis, and the Air Transportation Association of America.251 Opposing the trust fund concept were AAA, the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, National Association of Motor Bus Operators, the National Association of County Officials, and the Rubber Manufacturers Association.252
Officials of Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Milwaukee, and other urban areas believed that the time had come to address urban area problems. They felt that the State highway agencies had a rural bias. Boston wanted direct Federal-aid to urban areas. Several thought urban Interstates should be a priority, with the Federal Government providing up to 100 percent of the funding. Urban area representatives also felt that their populations provided most of the highway user tax revenue, but that much of it was being diverted to rural needs that were far less severe.
Perhaps no witness had a harder time than Matt Triggs, Assistant Legislative Director of the American Farm Bureau Federation, an organization of 1.5 million farm families. He said that his federation believed that the taxation of motor fuels should be reserved to the States. It opposed toll superhighways, but also large expenditures by the Federal Government for toll-free superhighway construction that would unbalance the Federal budget. When Triggs said funds for the Interstate System should be kept at current levels until the budget is balanced or serious unemployment occurs, Representative Dempsey asked Triggs what he thought that amount was. Triggs acknowledged he would be guessing, but thought the figure was about $280 million:
Mr. Dempsey. I would settle for a difference of $225 million. It is only $25 million.
Mr. Triggs. You are asking me some technical facts that I do not know... Do you mean a special system within the primary system?
Mr. Dempsey. That is right...
Returning to his statement, Triggs said that farm people "... are frequently disturbed because the Bureau of Public Roads insists on specifications that are considered unnecessarily expensive by local road authorities." The States, he believed, "are capable of establishing standards and specifications without supervision by Federal authority." The federation, therefore, recommended Congress end the BPR's authority to establish standards and specifications for secondary roads.
Representative Robert E. Jones, Jr. (D-Al.), interrupted. He summarized Triggs' views by saying the federation is opposed to the Federal gasoline tax, the earmarking of Federal funds for roads, toll roads, and the Interstate System.
Mr. Jones. Now you are opposed to any authority contained in law by which the Bureau of Public Roads says Federal moneys have to be spend on secondary roads.
Mr. Triggs. That is right.
Mr. Jones. As a matter of fact, Mr. Triggs, you are against the road program entirely, aren't you?
Mr. Triggs. May I change that a little bit? We are for a larger assumption of responsibility for roads by State government...
Mr. Jones. You eliminated all the taxes and all the authority of the Bureau of Public Roads to set standardization criteria for the construction of these secondary roads. What other function would the Federal Government have? You would then have to take from the general revenues moneys and appropriate it to roads.
Mr. Triggs. And allocate it to the States. I do not know what other functions the Bureau of Public Roads has. I do know that one of the things that comes up at meetings of farmers - almost any meeting of farmers - is that they have looked into the road program in their local community and want to build certain roads. They find in order to meet specifications of the Bureau of Public Roads it increases their cost and reduces the amount of roads which they can build.
Chairman McGregor interrupted:
Mr. McGregor. I guess I was the author of the farm-to-market roads with Federal funds - but I would like to ask you this question. You are recommending that the Federal Government get out of the plans and specifications program of the farm-to-market roads. Is that correct?
Mr. Triggs. Yes.
Mr. McGregor. I have been advised on good authority and have carefully checked it, and find those specifications you refer to are drawn by the various highway officials of the States. Such being the case, you are asking that the Federal Government get out of the plans and specifications field and give it back to the States, and the States are the very chaps who are drawing the plans and specifications now. So what good would that recommendation do?
Mr. Triggs. It may very well be, sir, that much of the local irritation that is reflected to us is based upon State highway departments telling local people, "We cannot do that because the Federal Government won't let us."
Mr. McGregor. I think you have hit the nail on the head. Some State officials are really misrepresenting the actual facts.
Mr. Triggs. But I still say that is the feeling of farm people out there.
Mr. McGregor. I hope that is the thing this committee will be able to bring out - that the Bureau of Public Roads has been the shock absorber for a lot of charges which are not justified.
When the questioning ended, Chairman McGregor thanked Triggs for his testimony. Triggs commented, "I enjoyed being here, even though it did get a little warm, in the way of questions."254
Two of the issues Chairman McGregor had asked witnesses to discuss were related to the nature of the Interstate System:
- Proposal for the extension of turnpikes and toll roads as well as transcontinental superhighways.
- Proposal to increase funds for interstate system of highways.
The responses demonstrated confusion about what the Interstate System was and how it would affect the country. Interstate highways were generally thought to be the U.S. numbered highway in the designated corridor, with the road to be upgraded within its present alignment wherever possible. This view was encouraged by the design standards developed by AASHO in 1945 and concurred in by the PRA.
Ziegler's comments about topic (4) on behalf of AASHO illustrate this perspective:
The matter of constructing turnpikes, toll roads, and transcontinental superhighways resolves itself simply into whether or not such highways are necessary in certain areas to efficiently accommodate the traffic need. We do not believe that it is necessary nor economically reasonable to use expressway type of design on all sections of transcontinental highways, because the present traffic or that which we can foresee in the reasonable future on many sections does not justify that type of design. The pattern for the desirable location and design standard of transcontinental principal highways has been established adequately by the Congress in its creation of the interstate system of highways. The need for the construction and financing of long expressway sections of this system of highways has not created a problem in a great many of the States thus far.
In reply to topic (5), AASHO favored increased funding to "provide some reasonable progress in the development of the interstate system." Ziegler reiterated AASHO's recommendation that $210 million be set aside for the Interstate System each year, with a Federal-State matching ratio of 75-25:
In view of its importance, considering the sizable deficiencies that exist, it is felt that a larger appropriation than previously recommended could well be justified. The previous estimate of nearly $11 billion shows the immediate need to bring this present interstate system up to tolerable standards. The construction of this system would automatically take care of a great part of our present highway deficiencies.
Stinchcomb indicated that AAA was "unalterably opposed to transforming free roads into toll roads." He said AAA thought 50 percent of Federal-aid funds should be used on the Interstate System. John V. Lawrence of the American Trucking Associations said, "Completion of the interstate highway system... in the least shortest time is, in our way of thinking, the first thing that should come first." The organization condemned the toll-road financing method, which should be employed only "under exceptional circumstances." The American Municipal Association supported the Interstate System and praised the BPR's cooperation "in spirit and in fact" with State and municipal officials.
New Mexico's Hatfield opposed toll financing, but added that "so-called superhighways should be constructed only where sound justification is indicated." For toll-free construction, he recommended "an amount adequate to insure their development commensurate with needs." Oregon's R. H. Baldock indicated that turnpikes were being built because people "are tired of waiting for the type of construction that they have wanted so long." Interest on bonds for toll financing, however, was "costing them a great deal of additional money that would not be necessary if the roads were built as toll-free roads." He opposed Federal funding for toll roads, and thought all additional funds should be devoted to construction of toll-free Interstate highways.
Griffith of West Virginia recommended that, "The Federal Government should take over responsibility for construction of the interstate system." Clem D. Johnston of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States favored reserving Federal-aid for "the roads used primarily by trade in interstate commerce." Pennsylvania's Schmidt was opposed to giving special funding for "any specific system":
The State in cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Roads should be the judge as to location and expenditure... We wish to protest most emphatically against recognizing the so-called interstate system for special appropriations and allocations.
Mayor Burke of Cleveland thought Interstate funding should be at least doubled. He understood why some areas had turned to toll financing, but he considered it "a much more expensive way of constructing roads." He preferred "an accelerated program of construction of the national system and on a basis that is without toll tax." Similarly, Glenn C. Richards, Detroit's Superintendent of Public Works, said he would "prefer toll roads to no roads; but I do not think toll roads are the answer." He pointed out that, "There is, however, almost unanimity of opinion as to the desirability of increased Federal participation on the interstate highway system." Milwaukee's Raleigh W. Gamble agreed, saying, "I wish to emphasize that a modest increase is not sufficient, but the 1952 appropriation should be increased many times."
For all the diversity of responses on the three key questions and the other issues Chairman McGregor had raised, Seely commented that what was most striking was "the emerging agreement on several key issues." He pointed out that:
Almost no one challenged the importance of the Interstate system, and discord on the traditionally divisive subject of rural roads was muted.
Seely observed three other areas of almost complete agreement:
Every witness concurred that a larger federal highway program was needed. Moreover, most agreed that the Interstate system should become the focus of federal attention because of its transcontinental role and its ability to ease urban congestion... Finally, there was almost complete agreement about maintaining the BPR as the guardian of the federal-aid program. Praise for the bureau came from both witnesses and congressmen...
The growing consensus on these and other points, Seely said, was a tribute to the BPR:
Every statistic about highway needs, construction progress, or potential costs that surfaced at the hearing came from the BPR.
He added that the BPR was also partly responsible for a growing interest in linking Federal-aid highway funding levels to highway user tax revenue. The BPR and Congress had long believed that the States should reserve State highway user taxes for highway improvements. Many members of the House Committee on Public Works, according to Seely, had come to think of a similar link at the Federal level:
[The] linkage was a tidy method of dealing with the rising tide of traffic, since it increased funds without appearing to increase taxes. Not only did critics find these arguments hard to refute, but they also had no serious alternative to present.
The interest in a loose "linkage," coupled with ambivalence toward the trust fund concept may, in hindsight, seem puzzling. However, the witnesses had hindsight to guide them, as Seely pointed out:
[The] state highway officials and the BPR deliberately avoided directly linking tax revenues and federal aid, for they remembered that state highway departments had been crippled when gas tax collections plummeted after rationing was imposed in World War II.255
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- Summary of Hearings, National Highway Study, House Committee Print No. 9, 83rd Congress, 1st Session, Subcommittee on Roads, Committee on Public Roads, April 15-July 14-1953.
- MacDonald, Thomas H., "A Choice of Guides," 38th Annual Meeting, American Association of State Highway Officials, Kansas City, Missouri, December 10, 1952, p. 12.
- The institute is the Texas Transportation Institute.
- "The 'Chief' Retires," Engineering News-Record, April 9, 1953, p. 128.
- Rae, John B. "Coleman du Pont and his Road," Delaware History, Spring-Summer 1975, p. 180.
- "Du Pont to Succeed MacDonald as Chief of U.S. Road Bureau," Mississippi Highways, April 1953., p. 12.
- Mississippi Highways.
- "MacDonald retires as Commission of Public Roads; F. V. du Pont takes over," Engineering News-Record, April 2, 1953, p. 52.
- Du Pont, Francis V., "What's Going On In Public Roads," November 10, 1953, American Highways, January 1954., p. 11.
- The association was concerned because taxes on highway tires and tubes, gasoline and lubricating oils were imposed not only on highway users but on aviation sources as well. Taxes from aviation sources should, the association said, be excluded from the trust fund.
- In view of the outcome, in 1956, of the long deliberations on the Interstate System, it is worth noting that many groups looked at their self interest from a narrow perspective. By focusing only on whether their group would be taxed, many groups opposed essential features of a program that would greatly benefit their members.
- The BPR adopted standards developed by the State highway officials acting through AASHO. This practice has been followed by the FHWA and AASHTO.
- Hearings before the Subcommittee on Roads of the Committee on Public Works, House of Representatives, "National Highway Study," No. 83-1, Part 1, 1953, p. 89-108.
- Seely, p. 208-211.