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Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System

President Dwight D. Eisenhower:
Text of Speeches


The President's News Conference, February 10, 1954

As you know, under the law there would normally come about soon a half-cent reduction in the Federal tax on gasoline. You also know in the statement already made that the administration hopes to keep that half-cent tax in order to push the good roads program throughout the United States. In the past, not all of this money had been put out on road construction in matching funds with the States. We hope to do it with all of it, and if we are successful, it will increase the Federal participation, I think, by some $225 million on a matching basis with the States.

[Later in the news conference:]

Joseph Sleven, New York Journal of Commerce: Mr. President, I would like to get back to your highway program announcement at the beginning of the session. You said you hoped to increase, as I understood it, Federal participation by $225 million.

The President. Well, only in this way: there has been certain of the funds withheld apparently, maybe because the States didn't match them. I am not quite sure of all the facts, but we do hope to step up this program from around $675 million to about $900 million. [Addresses Press Secretary Jim Hagerty] Isn't that correct?

Mr. Hagerty: That is correct.

The President. That is correct, about $900 million.

Mr. Slevin: Is that in addition to the amount programmed in your budget when it went to the Congress?

The President. The amounts aren't programmed, except as I spoke of the tax, the cent and a half excise tax, as opposed to two cents.

Mr. Slevin: On the expenditure side, is this $225 million in addition?

The President. The $225 million would be in addition to the one and a half cent yield. You would get a 2 percent yield, which would altogether run about--

Mr. Slevin: I am afraid I didn't make myself quite clear. I meant would the $225 million of Federal expenditure be in addition to the amount the budget said the Federal Government would spend in the next fiscal year?

The President. As a matter of fact, I have forgotten the item that the Federal budget itself said. I don't believe we gave a specific figure, exact figures, on that, because I thought it was dependent on the amount collected by the tax. I will look up the point and tell you about that.

[Later in the news conference:]

Glenn Thompson, Cincinnati Enquirer: Yesterday Congressman McGregor introduced a bill in the House which would increase the Federal contribution to highway building not by $225 million but by $289 million. He described his bill as introduced for the administration. I wondered if your statement of $225 million is an intentional change from that bill?

The President. Well, the figure that they gave me this morning was 250, and I was merely trying to be conservative. [Laughter] I don't know exactly what the amount is.

Q. Mr. Thompson: Mr. President, may I ask what the administration's position is--225, 250, or 289?

The President. Well, as a matter of fact, I came in here to talk to you about a principle based on a ½-cent tax; I don't know exactly what the figure is, and I can't be expected to know.


Safety Conference, February 17, 1954 (Excerpt)

The same list of statistics that I saw said that in 1975—I don’t know why I should be bothering about that year, except that I have grandchildren—said there are going to be 80 million automobiles on our streets and roads and highways.

Now, the Federal Government is going to do its part in helping to build more highways and many other facilities to take care of those cars.  But 80 million cars on our highways!  I wonder how people will get to highway conferences to consider the control of highway traffic.  It is going to be a job.

But that figure does mean this:  we don’t want to try to stop that many automobiles coming—I am sure Mr. Curtice doesn’t, anyway—we want them.  They mean progress for our country.  They mean greater convenience for greater numbers of people, greater happiness, and greater standards of living.  But we have got to learn to control the things that we must use ourselves, and not let them be a threat to our lives and to our loved ones.


Safety Conference, February 17, 1954 (Complete)

Mr. Secretary, ladies and gentleman:

A privilege accorded me is that of coming to this meeting in order to extend to each of you a cordial welcome on behalf of the Government of the United States.

The purpose of your meeting is one that is essentially local or community in character.  But when any particular activity in the United States takes 38,000 American lives in one year, it becomes a national problem of the first importance.

Consequently, this meeting was called, and you have accepted the invitation, in an understanding between us that it is not merely a local andr community problem.  It is a problem for all of us, from the highest echelon of Government to the lowest echelon and a problem for every citizen, no matter what his station or his duty.

I was struck by a statistic that seemed to me shocking.  In the last 50 years, these figures say the automobile has killed more people in the United States than we have had fatalities in all our wars:  on all the battlefields of all the wars of the United States since its founding 177 years ago.

We have great organizations working effectively and supported by the Government, to seek ways and means of promoting peace in the world in order that these great tragedies may be prevented—or at least minimized in the future.  But we live every day with this problem that costs us so many lives, and not only those lives but the grief and suffering in the families from which those victims came—to say nothing of the disablement that so many other citizens must bear all through their lives either through their own or someone else’s carelessness.

Now, it is one of those problems which by its nature has no easy solution.  No one can come along and say, well, we must have more policemen or more traffic lights or just more roads.  It is a problem that is many-sided, and therefore every citizen can contribute something to it if nothing else but his own sense of responsibility when he is driving his car or crossing the street or taking care of his children.  But I must say that in each community I do believe that much would be done if the efforts of all of those to whom we give legal responsibility in this affair would have the organized support of all of us.  If there were community groups established that could command the respect and the support of every single citizen of that city or that community, so that the traffic policeman, so that everyone else that has a responsibility in this regard, will know that public opinion is behind him.  Because—I have now arrived at the only point that I think it worthwhile to try to express to you, because in all the technicalities of this thing you know much more than I do.  I do want to refer, though, for one moment to this one factor:  public opinion.

In a democracy, public opinion is everything.  It is the force that brings about progress; it is the force that brings about enforcement of the laws; it is the force that keeps the United States in being, and it runs in all its parts.

So, if we can mobilize a sufficient public opinion, this problem, like all others to which free men fall heir can be solved.  That public opinion is not a thing of passing moment, not a thing to be won to our side all in one day.  It is earnest, long, dedicated leadership on the part of everybody who understands the problem, and then having once been formed, it takes the same kind of leadership to maintain it and sustain it, so that this problem will not return to us in exaggerated form.  And that fear, I believe, is a very real one.

The same list of statistics that I saw said that in 1975—I don’t know why I should be bothering about that year, except that I have grandchildren—said there are going to be 80 million automobiles on our streets and roads and highways.

Now, the Federal Government is going to do its part in helping to build more highways and many other facilities to take care of those cars.  But 80 million cars on our highways!  I wonder how people will get to highway conferences to consider the control of highway traffic.  It is going to be a job.

But that figure does mean this:  we don’t want to try to stop that many automobiles coming—I am sure Mr. Curtice doesn’t, anyway—we want them.  They mean progress for our country.  They mean greater convenience for greater numbers of people, greater happiness, and greater standards of living.  But we have got to learn to control the things that we must use ourselves, and not let them be a threat to our lives and to our loved ones.

And so I say all of this comes back to the mobilization of public opinion.  This kind of a meeting does something in the mobilizing of that opinion.  When you go back to your communities, each of you will have an opportunity that is probably as direct and immediate and personal a one as you could possibly have in this whole Government of ours.  So while I thank you for being here, for doing your part in this kind of job, in this kind of meeting, I also congratulate you on the opportunity that is opening up to each of you in your own communities.

And now again, thank you for the privilege of coming here and meeting you, and saying that I think you are engaged in something—I know you are engaged in something that is not only to the welfare of every citizen of the United States, but I believe that they realize it.

Thank you very much.


The President's News Conference, July 14, 1954

Glenn Thompson, Cincinnati Enquirer: Mr. President, could you give us some ideas about how the $50 billion in highway building should be financed?

The President. Well, I don't think there is any one way. As a matter of fact, all I made was a proposition. I believe we are at least $50 billion behind in our road networks. We are suffering from it in losses of life; we are suffering from it every day in terms of inefficient operation of all of our transportation throughout the country.

Every city--even down [sic]--I had a report from a city yesterday of 22,000, and it said "Our No. 1 problem is parking." The parking space, the thruways, the great networks that we need, all of these must be done. Now, in the great part of these I very much favor these self-liquidating projects.

The Government has made the proposition that we are ready to do our part in going forward with this planning and exploring a way. I have no definite plan, although we have been studying it for a year with people from the outside because, of all people, we must have the Governors and legislatures in with us. Until they come to me and show me their proposition and something that we can get together on, it is really idle to say how any single project will be financed.

I think there could be certain cases where the Federal Government would have to do it all, possibly, because of some particular Federal use; but, by and large, it should be local and, I would say, exploit the self-liquidating idea as far as is possible.

This, I should point out, that I am talking about has nothing to do with the normal road building that is going on now, in which the gasoline taxes and all that were involved. This is entirely over and above that.

Raymond P. Brandy, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Mr. President, on the gasoline tax, what is your view on letting the States have some of those taxes?

The President. As I recall, what was at issue this year was one-half a cent, and for the moment, we thought until this whole thing could be worked out and studied, we should continue as we had been rather than trying to make a change from which we couldn't retreat.

I don't believe that there is a final decision made, except this: that everybody to whom I have talked believes that we should put the maximum authority and responsibility in the States that they are capable of taking. If you put responsibilities there, you have got to let them have the money to do it.


Remarks in Cadillac Square, Michigan, October 29, 1954

This month there’s 25 percent more construction going on in the United States than there was this same month last year.  This is the greatest construction program in the entire history of the Nation.

There has been an expanded program—a regular program of road construction—which has been expanded and made bigger than ever before . . . .

We are pushing ahead with a great road program, a road program that will take this Nation out of its antiquated shackles of secondary roads all over this country and give us the types of highways that we need for this great mass of motor vehicles.  It will be a nation of great prosperity, but will be more than that:  it will be a nation that is going ahead every day.  With Americans being born to us—with our population increasing at five every minute, the expanding horizon is one that staggers the imagination.


Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union, January 6, 1955

A modern highway system is essential to meet the needs of our growing population, our expanding economy, and our national security.  We are accelerating our highway improvement program under existing State and Federal laws and authorizations.  But this effort will not in itself assure our people of an adequate system.  This problem has been carefully considered by the Conference of State Governors and by a special Advisory Committee on a National Highway Program, composed of leading private citizens.  I have received the recommendations of the Governors’ Conference and will shortly receive the views of the special Advisory Committee.  Aided by their findings, I plan to submit on January 27, recommendations which will meet our most pressing national highway needs.

The President's News Conference of May 4, 1955

Robert W. Richards, The Copley Press: The Governors of Illinois and Wisconsin said that an overwhelming majority of the Governors attending the conference in the last 2 days favor your highway program over the Gore bill. Can you comment on that, sir?

The President. As you will recall, last year I couldn't attend the Governors' Conference up in New York. Vice President Nixon delivered my message, in which I asked the Governors' Conference to establish a transportation road committee and to work with the committee I'd set up, and we would devise a program.

Now, the program that the committee of Governors set up for building the highways of this country is almost identical with the plan brought up by the Clay committee. And so it is what I stand behind. So far as I know, there never has been any rescission of the Governors' action, of their approval at that time.


The President's News Conference of June 29, 1955

Milton R. Freudenheim, Akron Beacon Journal:  Democrats in the House have been proposing and pushing a plan to finance long-range highway building by drastic increases in taxes on tires and also gasoline.  Have you any comments, Sir?

The President.  Yes, to this extent:  first of all, I think everybody agrees that America needs roads, needs them badly, and needs them now, and they ought to be built on a coordinated, comprehensive basis, and that building ought to start. 

Now, the question of financing raises problems.  Either you must find some way to finance these things out of current revenues as you go along, which means very greatly increased taxes, and in this case that would be on related products, gasoline, tires, and so on, or you must find some method of having a bond issue. 

If you had the bond issue, then you have the problem:  do you want to add it to the national debt or do you want to put it under a special organization in which liquidation is provided for, and which will get this whole sum of debt off our books as rapidly as possible. 

The Governors of the United States, and the Clay committee which I had appointed, in cooperation developed a plan that made road building, plus a bond issue which would be liquidating, under a U. S. Corporation. 

Now, here is one of the reasons against just raising taxes and trying to do it in that way, getting in a lot of revenue and building that much each year:  where are the States going to get the money to do their part of this thing? 

It seems to me that we have got to recognize occasionally the very great responsibility, authority, and power that should reside in our States, allowing them to have decent sources of revenue.  And if we put the maximum amount that the traffic will bear on all of these things, I don’t know where the States’ revenue is going to come from. 

So we devised a plan that we thought met the needs of the situation in the best possible fashion, and I am for it now just as strongly as I was when it was devised by the Governors and by the Clay Committee and put before the public.


The President's News Conference of April 25, 1956

David P. Sentner, Hearst Newspapers: Mr. President, would you care to comment on the revised highway bill which is about to be taken up by the House?

The President. Well, I can't comment on it too much, because while I talked about it yesterday, I am not sufficiently aware of all its details to discuss it at any great length.

Anyway, I rarely discuss details of legislation until I finally see it in its finished form. I have learned that a bill that comes out of Congress often bears little resemblance to the way it went in. But I still stick to this one thing: we need highways badly, very badly, and I am in favour of any forward, constructive step in this field.


Remarks at a Republican Rally at the Kanawha County Airport, Charleston, West Virginia, October 27, 1958

But I do want, as I speak about this economy, to indicate that I know there are spots of weakness still to be dealt with. Some of these, unfortunately, are within your own State. And I want to talk for a moment about two things we have been doing and we are doing to help here.

The first deals with the interstate highway system. There are more than 40,000 miles of highway to be constructed in this country, criss-crossing almost every State. After the first allocation of mileage to West Virginia, there were representations made by Senator Revercomb, and by your then Chairman, Senator Hoblitzell, as to the greater need of West Virginia, and that allotment of highway was more than doubled. It is now something on the order of 395 miles.

And the point is: this is not a dream. It is not a visionary project for your consideration. Work is going on right now, and it will go on more rapidly and more effectively, as each month passes, until the job has been completed . . . .

Good roads will save lives. They will be of great economic value, and route 77, I believe it is, will finally give a continuous route all the way from Ohio to Miami, to the great benefit of West Virginia.


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