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The Trailblazers

Inter-American Highway Background

Norman Wood

The objective of the Inter-American Highway was to link the United Sates to Mexico City and the capitol cities of the Central-America republics and Panama by paved highway. The program was initiated in 1932 and finally accomplished in 1967, when the final construction north of Panama City was completed. Mexico constructed and pad for their some 1,600 miles between Laredo, Texas, and the Guatemala border. The some 1,600 miles between Guatemala north border and Panama City was accomplished with United State and cooperating republics' funds.

The Bureau of Public Roads was designated as the U.S. cooperating agency on all matters related to the survey, design and construction of the highway. Progress was rather slow until from 1932 to 1942. During this first ten years, route location was accomplished and was perhaps one of the first attempts to do this with aerial photography. U.S. Army photoreconnaissance and aerial mapping photos were used. The aerial mapping effort was a separate and unrelated cooperative project between the U.S. and several republics.

Initial construction was several bridges across some of the principle rivers - accomplished by cooperative agreement between BPR and the cooperating republic - whereby BPR (U.S.) furnished all structural steel, cement and other materials necessary to be imported by the cooperator, with all labor and local materials furnished by the cooperator.

In 1940, the war clouds of World War II precipitated a whole new concept of the need for land access between the U.S. and the Panama Canal and work was stepped up to the extent the cooperating republics were able to finance their funds requirements. After Pearl Harbor and during World War II, accelerated work on the highway was a part of the war effort, but with the ending of the war, U.S. funds were curtailed and progress again slowed down until final completion in 1967.

Peruvian News Article discussing Mr. Woods arrival in Lima: HIGHWAY ENGINEER ARRIVES IN LIMA TO CARRY OUT SURVEY ON PERUVIAN HIGHWAY SYSTEM - Norman B. Wood, highway engineer with the United States Bureau of Public Roads, arrived in Lima Saturday, March 4, as the first of a group of engineers coming to Peru to pursue surveys and studies on the road system of the Republic. Mr. Wood has wide experience in Latin America and in the United States.  From 1940 until 1945 he was construction engineer on the Interamerican Highway in Costa Rica and a resident engineer in Panama from 1946 to 1947 on the same project.  (The Interamerican Highway is the link from Mexico to Panama in the entire Pan-American Highway system.) He was special assistant to the Deputy Commissioner in charge of Construction and Maintenance of the Bureau of Public Roads in Washington, D.C in 1947 and 1948.  In June and July of the latter year he was a member of the Board of Review of the Cochabamba-Santa Cruz Highway in Bolivia.  Last fall he made an investigation and report on the Call-Buenaventura Highway at the request of the Colombian government and recently completed a report on a highway program for the Department of Cundinamara in that country.  An associate member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a member of the Society of American Military Engineer.  Mr. Wood has been with the Bureau of Public Roads since 1928

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Updated: 06/27/2017
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000