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Highway History

Dwight D. Eisenhower Highway

In the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1973, Congress named a transcontinental highway after President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Because Congress wanted to commemorate the route of the U.S. Army's 1919 convoy, the Eisenhower Highway doesn't follow a single highway. Instead, it follows the following combination of highways roughly approximating the 1919 route:

  • I-270 between the Capital Beltway and I-70 in Frederick, Maryland.
  • I-70 to I-25 in Denver.
  • I-25 to I-80 at Cheyenne, Wyoming.
  • I-80 to San Francisco.

The provision, sponsored by Senator Charles McC. Mathias, Jr. (R-Md.), was very clear:

Any law, regulation, map, document, record, or other paper of the United States in which such segments are designated or referred to shall be held to designate or refer to such segments as the "Dwight D. Eisenhower Highway."

So far as is known, no one has ever been prosecuted for not complying with this requirement. That is fortunate because the name never took hold. Honoring the "Father of the Interstate System" was a good idea. But this odd combination of routes made little transportation sense. The States had no interest in putting up signs letting the public know the name of this "route" and mapmakers didn't adopt the idea, either.

Finally, on October 14, 1986, a commemorative sign sponsored by The Road Information Program was installed in the tourist information center off I-70 (westbound) in Kansas City, Kansas. Susan Eisenhower, the former President's granddaughter, attended. "My grandfather considered the interstate system as among his most lasting achievements. Today, on what would have been his 96th birthday, we can be thankful for his foresight and perseverance" in pushing for the Interstate System.

Congress tried again in 1990.

In June 1990, legislation was introduced to rename the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, the name specified in the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. The bipartisan proposal to rename the Interstate System was introduced on June 28, 1990, by Senator John Heinz (R-Pa.) for himself and Senators Bob Dole (R-Ks.), Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Ks.), Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY.), and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). The bill proposed the name "Dwight D. Eisenhower Interstate Highway System."

After explaining how President Eisenhower pushed for the Interstate System, Senator Heinz said:

President Eisenhower's adherence to the vision of American mobility was most certainly the main driving force behind the creation of the modern Interstate Highway System. The Federal Highway Acts of 1954, 1956, and 1958 had as their impetus Eisenhower's insistence that Congress and the administration act swiftly to address this Nation's severe infrastructure problems.

October 14 of this year marks Dwight D. Eisenhower's centennial birthday . . . . As a Senator from Pennsylvania, where Eisenhower kept his Gettysburg home upon retiring from office, and privileged as I am to be a member of the Eisenhower Centennial Commission, I strongly believe it is befitting to pay tribute to and remember this great, late President by naming the Interstate Highway System after the man who strived so hard to make it reality.

On October 4, Senator John Kerry (D-Ma.) introduced an amendment changing the name to the "Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways." Senator Heinz again rose to speak on behalf of the new name:

The late President demonstrated tremendous conviction to a vision of safe and expansive highways. From the moment he assumed the Presidency, Eisenhower's aspirations for an efficiently mobile America translated into . . . significant advances, paving the way toward a modern highway system. Among Ike's many, many lasting contributions to our Nation, none has more profoundly changed the shape of American life than the legacy of a modern system of highways.

The amended bill passed both Houses of Congress.

President George H. W. Bush signed the legislation on October 15, 1990 (one day after the centennial of President Eisenhower's birth). It was fitting that President Bush sign P.L. 101-427 because his father, Senator Prescott Bush (R-Ct.), had been one of the chief boosters of President Eisenhower's proposal for financing the Interstate System. (See "A Bush at Both Ends" for more information about Senator Bush. www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/rw01d.cfm)

Updated: 10/15/2013
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000