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Highway History

Building the Interstate

Section 1

W. L. Mertz and Joyce Ritter


What follows is the documentation of the critical events during the building of the Interstate System. The record begins with the passage of the 1956 Highway Act, which kicked off the Interstate construction program. It ends in 1974 just after the passage of the 1973 Highway Act, which was landmark legislation for the Interstate System and the highway program in general. We made several attempts to interpret the 1973 Act for the reader but abandoned it in favor of relying on quotations from those involved at the time who said what they thought it was.

An earlier document named "Origins of the Interstate" explored the critical years in the conceptualization of the Interstate System culminating in the 1956 Highway Act.

Both documents rely heavily on quoted excerpts of speeches made by people who were influential in charting the course of the highway program during those years. We have found that no paraphrasing expresses the essence of the issues of the times as well as the words of those who were involved and spoke them.

By far the richest source of material has been American Highways, the quarterly journal of the American Association of State Highway Officials. It faithfully recorded the views of its own members, Congressmen, Federal officials and indeed, the adversaries of the highway program.

The reasons for stopping the record in 1974 are several. First, our scheduled time allotted for this task was running out. Second, the events following the 1973 Highway Act are recent history. We have been involved in that history and so are too close to it to make unbiased judgements about what should be highlighted.

Updated: 06/27/2017
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