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"Clearly Vicious as a Matter of Policy": The Fight Against Federal-Aid

PART THREE: To Control The Levers (Page 5 of 6)

The Battle Over the Defense Highway Act of 1941

As the crisis intensified, President Roosevelt submitted a message to Congress on implementing the findings reported in Highways for the National Defense. He summarized the report and expressed the hope that "readjustment in highway programs now authorized may release additional funds for meeting in part these new requirements." He requested $100 million to improve access roads, but did not believe that strengthening the entire strategic network at a cost of $458 million was a necessity. "There is a need, however, for giving immediate attention to strengthening bridges in key areas [and] the widening of the surface of some highways in these key areas." He requested $25 million for this purpose. He cautioned Congress on distribution of the funds:

No attempt should be made to apportion funds for access roads in the manner in which funds are apportioned under the Federal Highway Act.193

Carmody submitted a bill, the Defense Highway Act of 1941, embodying the President's recommendations.

Engineering News-Record observed that the amounts requested by the President "differ markedly" from those in the PRA report ($125 million compared with $287 million):

Considerable sentiment exists in Congress for providing a larger sum than that suggested by the President. It is possible that the amount might be raised to as much as the full $350,000,000 needed for access roads.194

By the time the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads began hearings on the bill on June 4, Senator Hayden and Congressman Cartwright had introduced a modified version of the bill "to authorize appropriations during the national emergency declared by the President on May 27, 1941, for the immediate construction of roads urgently needed for the national defense, and for other purposes." It was silent on dollar amounts, but indicated that funds for strategic highways were to be authorized to be appropriated in accordance with the apportionment formula in the Federal Highway Act. The Commissioner of Public Roads was to provide, by contract or otherwise, for construction and improvement of access roads. According to Engineering News-Record, the President's bill was receiving "only perfunctory consideration, and, even from government officials, has obtained very tepid approval."195

The Senate passed its version of the bill on June 16, while the House approved a different version on July 21. Following a Conference Committee of the two Houses, the Congress approved the bill on July 29. The final version, with authorizations totaling $295 million, closely followed the recommendations in the PRA report. The bill authorized $125 million to be apportioned to the States under the Federal-aid formula to correct deficiencies in the strategic network of highways; $150 million for access roads to military and naval reservations and defense-industry sites, with projects to be selected by the Federal Works Administrator; $10 million for flight strips along highways for emergency airplane landings; $10 million for planning; and up to $25 million to reimburse local communities for highway damage resulting from Army maneuvers.

On August 2, 1941, President Roosevelt vetoed the bill. His veto statement explained that he objected to the $125 million for strategic highways and apportionment of the funds in accordance with the Federal-aid formula:

The critical deficiencies in highways and bridges that may require prompt correction in the interest of our national defense cannot be reasonably related to the population of States or the other factors which enter into ordinary apportionment. The result, therefore, is the necessity for the appropriation of a far larger sum of money to meet immediate requirements than would be necessary if these funds were applied to critical deficiencies without the apportionment method. In fact, it is quite possible that the most critical deficiencies in some areas may not be corrected even with the sum authorized in this bill. I am unable to approve this method of expending money for the immediate national defense and for which I recommend a total of $25,000,000 without apportionment.

In short, he objected to formula distribution to the States "without any further review by the executive or legislative branches." By contrast, he was satisfied with the funds for access roads, although the amount was $50 million more than had been recommended, because the Administration would be able to direct the funds to specific projects. He summarized his view:

Such a distribution formula entirely disregards, it seems to me, the main purpose to be accomplished, which is that of providing highway construction in particular areas, and in those areas only, where there is immediate need of such construction in the interest of our national defense.

He objected to other provisions of the bill. A provision that established eligibility for buying and developing off-street parking when on-street parking was prohibited was not "a proper expenditure of Federal money" even on highways included in the strategic network "where the possible benefits of such expenditures are dependent upon local enforcement of parking laws or regulations." He also objected to a provision that allowed the recall of retired PRA employees during the emergency and the detail of an unlimited number of employees to study at technical institutions at Federal expense.

In the Senate, Senator Hayden led the effort to override the President's veto of the Defense Highway Act of 1941. He began on August 5, but his sustained argument took place on August 6. He recalled his role in passage of the emergency bill in 1933 and in opposing the President's attempt in 1937 to alter the long-standing method of funding the Federal-aid highway program. He also reminded his colleagues of the bureaucratic opposition to allowing money to be spent without their control.

Senator Hayden expressed surprise that the President had vetoed a bill that closely followed the recommendations of a report by one of his own agencies. The Senator was particularly surprised by the view that apportionment under the Federal-aid formula would prevent the funding from meeting critical needs on defense highways:

It is known in every State exactly what is to be done, on the basis of a 6-month engineering investigation made by the Army engineers under the direction of the corps-area commanders, by the State highway engineers, and by the engineers of the Public Roads Administration.

The States knew exactly where "the worst situations are" and the funds for their correction "will permit the most important things to be done."

He explained that the President forwarded the bill to every agency with an interest in roads for defense. All had approved the bill, except two.

There are only two agencies in the Government which could have helped the President prepare the message, so far as I can make out. One is the Bureau of the Budget and the other is the National Resources Planning Board. The Bureau of the Budget have never liked the idea that they could not juggle highway appropriations whenever they wanted to. The Bureau of the Budget has consistently objected to that feature of our highway legislation which makes the apportionments to the States contractual obligations on which the States can rely with absolute certainty. So we have here a question of principle, whether or not the Congress shall maintain a policy established in 1916 which will assure to the States that they can absolutely depend upon a certain sum of money apportioned to them under a well-known and established rule, or whether we shall abandon it and allow the matter to be handled by bureaucrats here in Washington, not one of whom ever built a mile of road, whether as a contractor or as a supervising engineer.

(Hayden did not discuss the National Resources Planning Board (NRPB), which had been created by Reorganization Plan No. I of 1939, the same plan that shifted the BPR out of the Department of Agriculture and renamed it the PRA. The NRPB was headed by the President's uncle, Frederic A. Delano, with a mission to coordinate Federal planning related to conservation and use of national resources, conduct long-range research studies, stimulate local, State, and regional planning, and perform special duties related to the national defense. However, it earned the particular disdain of Republicans, who claimed it was at the forefront of what they perceived as Roosevelt-era agencies leading this country into socialism.196)

He referred to release of the PRA's report on February 1 and its important findings, such as the deficiency of 2,436 bridges on the strategic network, and the clear necessity for action:

Nothing was done during the month of February, the month of March, and the month of April. Finally I went down to the War Department to find out the cause of the long delay. I said, "Gentlemen, do you want these roads? Do you want the work done?" They said, "Yes; but we do not want the headache that goes along with it." I asked what they meant and was told: "We have had nothing but grief here for weeks in trying to locate army camps throughout the United States. Every town in the country which thought it ought to have an Army camp somewhere near sent enterprising chamber of commerce representatives to Washington trying to secure a camp in its neighborhood, and got some Senators and Representatives to plead their cause. Those representatives did not want to see a major or a colonel, but they wanted to see a general, and have him authorize the location of a camp in their town. We do not want to be subjected to the same kind of pressure for the improvement of particular roads on the strategic network."

I said, "If that is all your trouble, we can avoid it completely. We can apportion this money among the States just as it has always been done, and then Senators and Representatives will not be called upon to come down and see the Chief of Staff, or anyone else, about the location of highway improvements."

Because it would put the responsibility on them, the Army is opposed to handling this money in the way the veto message suggests. If money for strategic highways is not apportioned but is merely handed over to the Army, then everyone who wants a road will come to Washington to get his road, and will ask his Senator or Representative to help him do it. If the money is spent as proposed in this bill the work will be done by the States as the result of a study covering 6 months, with the advice of the corps area commanders and the Public Roads Administration.

Chairman McKellar joined Senator Hayden in opposing the veto. "It is a national-defense bill, and in my judgment the best possible road bill for national defense purposes that could be evolved, because it is based upon a network of roads which have been selected by the War Department." He endorsed expending the funds through the PRA under MacDonald, "one of the most capable men in the Government service." He added:

As a practical matter and as an economic matter it would be better for the roads to be built under the direction and control of Mr. MacDonald, who has wide experience, than to be built by Army officers or officers in some other department of the Government who have had no experience... I do not know of any road organization in the United States which could build the roads as cheaply, as efficiently, and as free from political bias and control as could the organization presided over by Mr. MacDonald.

He also defended the increased Federal share of 75 percent for the projects:

Why? Because the roads are defense roads.

Senator H. Styles Bridges (R-NH.) asked why the President would veto a bill that was in the interest of national defense and would keep the administration of the funds nonpolitical. McKellar replied:

I have not the slightest notion. The President did not talk to me about it, or I should certainly have urged him not to veto the bill... The Army had laid out the roads which it wants improved for defense purposes. The bill provides the best and cheapest way of building or improving such roads.

The bill, he added, could not "be called political in any way."

As to the President's objection that formula apportionment would preclude improvement of many critical roads, Senator McKellar said:

If there are some in every State, why should not the money be spent in every State? Why turn over the $125,000,000 to some official in Washington and let him spend it where he pleases?

Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg (R-Mi.), one of the President's many Republican critics, said "I do not want to prejudice the President's case by presenting a defense of it from this [Republican] side of the aisle." The President, he said, "had fallen upon evil days" when he had to depend on "the senior Senator from Michigan for his spokesmanship." Nevertheless, the Senator explained:

I think this is one instance in which the President is completely and eternally right, and I think the equation is far simpler than has thus far been presented to the Senate. It is simply the question whether $100,000,000 is still worth saving.

Underneath all this wordy devotion to the principle of protecting the old matching and apportioning theory for State highway construction with Federal aid is one simple fact, and that simple fact is that the President says if he is permitted to proceed according to his method of building special defense roads he can do for $25,000,000 what this bill requires $125,000,000 to do.

Although Senators Hayden and McKellar had argued that the long, successful history of the Federal-aid highway program established a precedent, Vandenberg pointed out that by seeking a 75-percent Federal share, the bill was breaking with precedent. When Senator McKellar pointed out that the Federal share had been changed but not the system of operation, Vandenberg said the ratio was part of the system. Senator McKellar replied:

The system remains. These are defense roads; this is a national proposition; this money is to be spent for national-defense purposes.

"Certainly," said Senator Vandenberg, but the funds ought to be spent where defense needs are, "not all over the 48 States merely because all the 48 States would like to get on this gravy train."

Senator McKellar countered by saying:

But the money ought to be spent in States where the Army defense roads are needed. The Army has stated where they are needed. Does the Senator think that in some way the method of building these roads should be changed so as not to conform to what the Army recommended in any State?

A colloquy followed based on the fact that Senator Vandenberg had long opposed President Roosevelt:

Mr. Vandenberg. I really, in spite of my other reservations, can trust the President to consult the War Department in respect to this matter.

Mr. McKellar. I think the Senator ought to be complimented. I have been here for more than 8 years under the administration of Mr. Roosevelt, and, so far as I recall, this is the first and only time the Senator has ever argued that President Roosevelt should be trusted.

Mr. Vandenberg. Well, this is the first and only time I can remember that the President has ever said anything about economy. [Laughter.]

Following the discussion, the Senate voted, 57 to 19, to override the President's veto.197

The House of Representatives considered the issue on August 7, with Cartwright leading the effort to override the President's veto. After discussing Highways For The National Defense, he said he rejected the idea of letting Federal officials select the projects to be improved. Like Senator Hayden, Cartwright believed that other forces were behind the President's veto:

Now, I have great respect for the President's judgment when he gives a proposition matured thought, but in this instance there is little or no doubt the Budget Bureau is back of the wording of the veto message. Some have said this is "pork barrel" legislation. It is the most non-pork barrel, non-log-rolling, and nonpolitical legislation we can possibly pass. Mr. Speaker, no better system of distribution of Federal funds has ever been devised by the minds of men. Personally, I prefer the judgment of the States because they know the weak places in their highways. I prefer the judgment of the Public Roads Administration engineers. I prefer the judgment of the Army engineers - especially do I prefer their judgment after 6 months of careful investigation and survey.

The bill, he said, had the support of the War Department, the PRA, and the Transportation Division of the Advisory Division of National Defense:

We have a lingering suspicion that this bill is opposed by the National Resources Planning Board, of which Mr. Delano is Chairman. We know this bill is opposed vigorously by the Budget Bureau. I ask you, What does the Budget Bureau know about building highways, defense or civilian?

Cartwright summarized his argument:

It all simmers down to whether or not Congress shall maintain the policy established 25 years ago, or admit the Bureau of the Budget knows more about highways than the State highway departments, the Public Roads Administration, the United States Army engineers, and the Congressmen who come directly from the people.

Many Members rose to agree with the Chairman, several citing the role of the autobahn in sustaining Germany's war effort. For example, Congressman Jed J. Johnson (D-Ok.) said:

Only a few months before the Munich conference I went from one end of Germany to the other after attending, as a delegate from the United States Congress, the Interparliamentary Union Conference in the city of Paris. When I saw those three- and four-lane highways leading almost in every direction as straight as a crow can fly, from the city of Berlin, I knew that Germany was really preparing for war. That was an important phase of national defense that France and many of the other countries overlooked. It is a thing that the United States has seriously neglected, a matter that this bill seeks to, in part at least, cure.

Representative Mott rose to speak in support of overriding the veto. As one of the many Republicans who despised the President and his "planners," he began by stressing that "I speak to you not as a partisan." In his 8 years on the Committee on Roads, he said, politics had "never entered into the consideration of any bill." He considered the President's veto "the most serious task that has confronted [the House] in the whole history of highway legislation."

Mott was convinced that the President, in this instance, "has been very, very seriously misled and misadvised." He said that all committee members regretted that the President had "succumbed to this bad advice," explaining:

This veto does not come to us entirely as a surprise. For 8 years we have been having this same trouble. For 8 years there has been a conflict between the President and the Congress on the fundamentals of road legislation. The effort of a group of bureaucrats here in Washington to influence the President to veto every road bill so that they could have the entire control of Federal road building has been continuous during all of that time.

He said he knew who the misleaders were:

He referred it to the National Resources Planning Board. He did not refer it to his highway experts. He referred it to this group of incompetent political amateurs. Those who have had experience with the National Resources Planning Board know what that body has always been in the habit of doing with all legislation referred to it, unless it is the purpose of that legislation to confer absolute discretionary authority on the President.

Congressman Samuel F. Hobbs (D-Al.) joined other members who praised Commissioner MacDonald and the PRA and who had joined Chairman Cartwright in making this bill "the irreducible minimum of authorization to make effective the stupendous defense effort of America in this crisis":

Ice would sell high in hell if you could get it there. But there is but one highway leading to that hot destination, and that one runs through the realm of immorality, and is wholly unsuited for the transportation of ice. Of what practical use is it to produce ammunition and munitions of war for the defense of the Nation unless we can transport this material to the places where it is most needed in time of sudden attack?

Other Members agreed with the President. Congressman John J. Cochran (D-Mo.) supported the President's comments about the $125 million to be apportioned among the States for improving critical strategic highways:

This must be done, understand, regardless of whether or not national-defense highways are needed in a State. Now it seems to me, while I admit that it was an excellent bait to get votes, that the Congress should have specifically advised that the $125,000,000 be used where it was most needed rather than allocated among the States regardless of whether it was urgently necessary, and that is the President's view.

He added:

Where, let me ask, could there be more waste in allocating money to a State or States for roads needed from a national-defense standpoint, when a careful survey of that State has clearly indicated there is no necessity for an expenditure for that purpose. Rather than allocate this money among the 48 States of the Union let it go to those States regardless of where they are located where the need is most urgent.

Congressman Herman P. Eberharter (D-Pa.) acknowledged that the veto had been a surprise, but "only among those who are not thoroughly familiar with the provisions of the bill." He asked the Members to think what it means to distribute the strategic highway funds by Federal-aid apportionment formula:

On the one hand it means that States which are not in any need whatsoever of funds for defense highways will automatically be entitled to a proportion of the $125,000,000, based upon their population, area, and number of post roads - while, on the other hand, States wherein there is urgent and dire need of immediate and large-scale construction of defense highways, will be limited to an amount far below their absolute need... What in the world has such a method of allocation got to do with defense highways; what has it got to do with defense bridges; what has that sort of method of allocation got to do with any emergency?

He realized that many Members were "timid about voting against any so-called emergency appropriation," he said, "but this is an instance wherein the word 'emergency' is being used to tap the till of Uncle Sam for nonessential construction and improvements." The provision on parking facilities "shows to what an alarming extent the Congress can go when beguiled by the awe-inspiring word 'emergency.'"

Congressman Adolph J. Sabath (D-Il.) was concerned about influence, but not by the agencies that had influenced the President to veto the bill:

The gentlemen of the committee complain that the Bureau [of the Budget] has recommended a veto of the bill and that we must show them that they do not possess greater power than Congress. Oh, yes; that will appeal to many of the Members, but they fail to mention the pressure and the lobby that has been active - not connected with the Government, but with industry, who have been strenuously working for the passage of this legislation.

He considered the bill a "pork barrel" bill and asked those who favor cutting the budget for reasons of economy, "What possible excuse can the would-be economy advocates give in not voting to sustain the President?"

The Senate having rejected the veto by a three-to-one majority, Cartwright was confident of an even larger percentage in the House. After an hour of debate, the House voted, resulting in what The New York Times called a "parliamentary snarl" caused by Rayburn, who had become Speaker of the House on September 16, 1940, following Speaker Bankhead's death the day before. Rayburn called for a recapitulation of the roll-call vote without announcing the result. The Times article explained:

Bombarded by points of order when he declined to reveal the vote before the recapitulation, Speaker Rayburn stuck to his guns, reading from the House Rules and Cannon's Procedures. At the same time he ruled that it was in order for members to change their votes.

Several Members switched positions, but in the end, the President's veto was sustained by two votes in a vote of 128 for sustaining the veto and 251 for overriding.198

The Senate quickly turned to revising the vetoed legislation and passed a bill before the August recess. Cartwright introduced a revised bill in October. Both Houses approved the final version of the bill in November:

  • It cut funding for strategic highways to $50 million, with half apportioned by Federal-aid formula and half allocated by the Federal Works Administrator based on need.
  • The Federal-State matching ratio of 75-25 was extended to any Federal-aid highway project on a strategic highway.
  • The bill authorized $150 million for access roads without apportionment or a matching requirement. Instead, "due consideration" should be given in expenditure of the funds to States that had expended their own funds "for immediate construction of roads and highways deemed essential to the national defense."
  • The bill retained the $10 million for roadside flight strips and the off-street parking provision, limited the PRA to sending 10 employees to technical schools, and dropped the recall of PRA retirees during the emergency.

While Congress was working on the bill, the PRA and the Office of Production Management (OPM) agreed on a procedure for setting priorities for highway projects at a time when materials were in short supply for anything but defense-related projects. On August 30, OPM wrote to Commissioner MacDonald to outline the preference rating system the PRA and State highway departments would use. Projects would be rated based on the class of project (access roads, strategic network of highways, Federal-aid system, Federal-aid secondary and National Park and Forest Projects, construction of the Inter-American Highway, and construction of the Trans-Isthmian Highway and the Chorrera-Rio Hato Highway in Panama). Those ratings could be shown to suppliers as they allocated their resources.

The situation in Europe continued to deteriorate. On November 11, 1941, President Roosevelt had gone to Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate Armistice Day, a day that celebrated the end of the first World War.199 He declared that the anniversary had "a particular significance in the year 1941." Referring to the heroes of that earlier war, he said:

We know that these men died to save their country from a terrible danger of that day. We know, because we face that danger once again on this day...

The people of America, he said, "believe that liberty is worth fighting for. And if they are obliged to fight they will fight eternally to hold it."

With war concerns growing, Treasury Secretary Morgenthau renewed his call for reduced highway expenditures on November 14 during an appearance before the Joint Congressional Committee on Non-Essential Expenditures, chaired by Senator Harry Flood Byrd (D-Va.). He recommended that Congress rescind the $139 million in Federal-aid highway authorizations for FY 1943, due to be apportioned among the States by January 1, 1942:

This would result in a reduction of expenditures for public roads in the fiscal year 1944 (July 1, 1943, to June 30, 1944). Inasmuch as money spent by the government is matched by the states, a reduction in the federal road expenditures will most likely bring a desired reduction in highway expenditures by the states.

State and local authorities should be requested to defer undertaking new projects, even though allotments have already been made for them. Other major projects already under way which can be appropriately discontinued or curtailed should be suspended.

Any new roads or enlargement of existing road facilities required by national-defense activities could be specifically authorized as defense projects.

The Secretary did not confine his recommendations to the highway program. Overall, he called for a reduction of $1 billion in expenditures for highways, reclamation, river and harbor improvements, and other nondefense activities. Reduced construction activities, he said, would have "multiple advantages," including reduction in expenditures to help balance the budget, release of workers for defense plants, and reduced competition for materials and equipment needed for defense activities. The reductions also would allow preparation of a backlog of projects for continued employment in the post-war period.200

That same day, the President sent a letter to the AAA, which was meeting in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. In times like the present, he said, "there must be readjustments." He continued:

But we must not surrender the benefits of our mobility and our system of highways which make it possible. While first attention must be given to road needs for defense, we must not lose sight of the demand for highway planning to meet post-emergency conditions.201

During a news conference on November 18, 1941, the President discussed his concerns about the Federal-aid highway program, as described in The New York Times:

President Roosevelt indicated today his belief that further measures of economy were desirable in the field of Federal-aid highway appropriations. In a statement to his press conference he stressed that present and past legislative and executive actions in approving laws requiring approval of such appropriations by future Congresses were causing him trouble with his 1943 budget recommendations...

The President deplored the practice of making future Federal-aid highway commitments when he was asked if he was to sign the pending defense highway bill, which recently reached his desk after modifications caused by his veto of the original measure.

Mr. Roosevelt replied that he had not yet read the bill and then commented on what he said he believed were unconstitutional practices of the present and past Administrations in making such future commitments for later Congresses to fulfill.

The article summarized the President's explanation of the contract authority that was part of the Federal-aid program:

As the present practice goes, he said, one Congress can direct the Federal Roads Bureau to inform States of allocations which are to become a part of prospective appropriations, and the States then go ahead and make road-building contracts on the basis of these assurances.

He added that annually he was compelled to recommend large appropriations in the budget to fulfill these moral obligations. The President complained particularly that in next year's budget he must recommend such large sums, in addition to those for defense highways, when he felt the national situation required cancellation of normal Federal-aid highway construction.202

President Roosevelt approved the bill the following day, on November 19, but made clear that he did so reluctantly and only because he "felt constrained" to do so by the urgent need for access roads and flight strips. He approved of the $150 million authorization for access roads and $10 million for flight strips, but he objected to the $50 million authorization for strategic highways and the increased Federal share:

As to the other authorizations in the bill, I am advised by the secretaries of war and navy that they consider them of only secondary importance. I concur in the view that, in the light of present conditions, these authorizations cannot properly be regarded as urgently needed for the national defense.

He added:

The remaining authorizations for off-street parking facilities, reimbursement to states for repairs to roads under certain operating conditions, and surveys and plans fail to find, I think, satisfactory justification for enactment upon any ground that they are immediately required in the interest of national defense.

President Roosevelt expressed his "earnest hope" that Congress would promptly repeal the provisions he opposed.

Although the Defense Highway Act of 1941 was enacted, the highway community was apprehensive about signs the President was considering another attempt to rein in the Federal-aid highway program. The President's press conference comments were one source of concern; they paralleled Secretary Morgenthau's comments on November 14.

These actions, Engineering News-Record reported, "aroused an expectation among many in Washington who are well-informed on road matters that some new move to change the basis of federal aid is in the offing." The magazine recalled President Roosevelt's previous efforts:

It will be remembered that in 1938 the President withheld the formal allocations of authorized road funds, asked the states not to obligate the money, and urged Congress to amend the federal-aid act to eliminate advance authorizations. On that occasion, Congress refused to act and the attempt failed.

What concerned the road builders, the magazine explained, was that circumstances had changed since that earlier success in denying the President what he sought:

Now, however, the President has available a new and widely popular argument in the need for economy in non-defense expenditures. He can contend, too, that with other forms of construction restricted it is illogical to continue road work.

The magazine speculated on what approach the President might take:

In view of the previous failure it is unlikely that President Roosevelt will try to hold up the December allocations; Congress after all specifically directs that the allocations be made. He might however express publicly his opinion that the authorizations are not a binding commitment and warn the states that he does not expect to submit budget estimates to make them good.

Another approach might be through the priority system. At present, under the road priority plan, A ratings are assigned to all highway projects involving federal money. But this plan could readily be cancelled and road projects be brought under the general SPAB [Supply, Priorities and Allocations Board] policy on construction - so that each would have to be justified individually on its defense value.

Engineering News-Record also speculated that the President would soon ask the Congress to appropriate funds to cover the authorizations for the access road and flight strips program, as well as the unallocated half of the strategic highway funds.203

Better Roads magazine ran an editorial in its December 1941 issue on "The Federal Highway Policy." After summarizing the President's comments on the 1941 Act and reminding readers of his attempt in 1937 to curtail the Federal-aid highway program, the editorial identified "certain inconsistencies in the president's outlook":

Thus he (a) discourages advance planning, but (b) believes, as he told the convention of the American Automobile Association, that we must not lose sight of the demand for highway planning to meet post-emergency conditions. He (a) reminded the A.A.A. convention that "we must not surrender the benefits of our mobility and our system of highways," but (b) urged upon congress an extremely restricted view of the responsibility of the federal government for highway development at the present time.

The editorial defended contract authority as "the heart of the Federal-aid system." If the President prefers "flexible tactics," the editorial suggested that he and everyone else might try answering this question:

If a policy of fluctuating federal highway grants had prevailed over the past 20 years, with amounts dictated by tactics that seemed appropriate to the moment, would our state and federal highway organizations have attained the stability they possess today, and would their work be carried on at the same level of performance?

The editorial stated that "impartial students" of Federal-State relations had concluded that continuity of programs had fostered "continuing high standards and continuous research, with resulting benefit to the users of the system of primary highways."

A memorandum from the President to the FWA Administrator on November 25, 1941, confirmed the highway community's fears:

The development of a national-defense program has required restrictions in the use of materials and supplies essential to defense and has made necessary curtailment of Federal expenditures for nondefense purposes. Moreover, any nondefense operations are utilizing manpower that could be diverted to defense industries.

I have been giving attention to the possibility of removing all possible barriers to the successful progress of the defense effort and have reached the conclusion that the Federal-aid highway program, along with many other types of public works projects insofar as they are not related to national defense, could and should be deferred. I am conscious of the cooperation that has been given by State Highway Departments and other agencies in connection with the redirection of a large measure of expenditure programs for those projects of direct national-defense significance.

I am convinced that drastic steps must be taken to insure the release of materials and manpower for the defense effort. To that end you are directed with respect to all apportionments heretofore made under the Federal Highway Act, as well as apportionments to be made before the end of the calendar year 1941, to restrict the approval of projects hereafter to those essential to national defense as certified by the appropriate Federal defense agencies. In carrying out this direction, I feel sure that you will have the full cooperation of State Highway Departments and all others interested in the successful prosecution of the national-defense program.

In this connection, I remind you that during this emergency period plans are being made for the establishment of a shelf of projects to be undertaken as and when needed at the conclusion of the present emergency. Highways will offer an unusual opportunity for the absorption of manpower released from defense activities.204

(The position of Administrator was vacant following Carmody's appointment to the Maritime Commission. On November 21, the President appointed General Philip B. Fleming, the Wage-and-Hour Administrator, as Federal Works Administrator, but he did not take office until December 10.)

In accordance with the President's instructions, a stoppage order was issued on December 2, 1941, for all Federal-aid highway projects not related to defense needs.

Five days later, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked American facilities at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The next day, the President's war message to Congress would refer to December 7 as "a date which will live in infamy." The attack propelled the United States into World War II.

The President's memorandum dictated the direction of the Federal-aid highway program, which was consistent with the Federal Highway Act provision giving the Commissioner of Public Roads the authority to override State highway agency priorities. The PRA issued General Administrative Memorandum (GAM) No. 144 on December 29, 1941, titled "Programming Federal-Aid Projects Essential to the National Defense." The restriction of "the approval of projects to those essential to the national defense as certified by the appropriate Federal defense agencies" required "a revised program procedure." The GAM offered three instructions:

  1. All Federal-aid projects in approved programs for which plans, specifications, and estimates had not been approved for advertisement before the December 2 stoppage order "immediately lose all program status and must be resubmitted" to determine if they were essential to the national defense.
  2. The regulation calling for submission of programs of proposed construction would be satisfied "by the submission and consideration of individual projects which are accompanied by letter-size insert maps indicating the location of the proposed work." This requirement substituted for the regulatory requirement that the States submit "Federal-aid progress maps showing the location in diagrammatic form."
  3. States were to fill out a form, attached to the GAM, to accomplish defense certification of projects. The two-page form required a description of the project location, the proposed work, the existing highway or structure, and the traffic service rendered.

The PRA's annual report for 1942 explained:

After December 7 approval of highway projects was restricted to those certified as essential in carrying on the war. The organization did not seek to build all roads that might in some degree be helpful in that respect, but it did undertake to aid in the solution of critical highway transportation problems as determined in conference with other Federal agencies and from the viewpoint of the best use of total resources.

This policy led to intensive efforts toward removal of highway bottlenecks to camps, munitions plants, and shipyards.205

The Federal-aid highway program was profoundly affected, as summarized in America's Highways 1776-1976:

The great highway boom that began in 1921 and continued unabated through the Great Depression, came to an end in the complexities and frustrations of mobilization and war. Fiscal year 1941 was the peak year for the Federal-aid program with 12,936 miles of roads of all classes completed; thereafter completed mileage fell to 10,178 miles in fiscal year 1942, and 8,445 miles in 1943. After 1942 practically all new work related directly to national defense. The diminishing Federal-aid funds were used to solve traffic problems in areas congested by war activities. The forest highway funds went into mineral access and timber access roads to provide raw materials for the war effort.206
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  1. Hearing before the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads, United States Senate, on S. 1580, Defense Highway Act of 1941, Committee Print, June 4, 1941, p. 4-5.
  2. "Access Road Appropriation Recommended by President," Engineering News-Record, June 5, 1941, p. 57.
  3. "Defense Road Bill Covers Many Types of Activity," Engineering News-Record, June 12, 1941, p. 1.
  4. The Independent Offices Appropriation Act of 1944 (57 Stat. 169), approved June 26, 1943, killed the NRPB, effective August 31, 1943, by not appropriating funds for it in FY 1943. The liquidation was completed by January 1, 1944.
  5. McKellar served as Chairman of the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads through the 79th Congress (until August 2, 1946) and remained in the Senate until he was defeated in Tennessee's 1952 Democratic primary by Representative Al Gore, Sr. After winning the election in November, Gore was assigned to the Committee on Public Works. When the Democrats regained control of the Senate in 1955, he became Chairman of the Subcommittee on Roads. He was one of the principal authors of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956.
  6. "Veto of Road Bill Wins by 2 Votes," The New York Times, August 8, 1941.
  7. Armistice day, November 11, was renamed Veterans' Day by legislation in 1954 to honor the servicemen and women of all America's wars.
  8. Dorris, Henry N., "Asks Billion Cut From Nondefense," The New York Times, November 15, 1941.
  9. United Press International, "Would Push Road Gains," The New York Times, November 15, 1941.
  10. "President Urges Highway Savings," The New York Times, November 19, 1941.
  11. "Defense highway bill signed by the President," Engineering News-Record, November 27, 1941, p. 755.
  12. FDR Library, OF 129, Box 3, Folder 1941.
  13. Work of the Public Roads Administration 1942, p. 2.
  14. America's Highways 1776-1976, p. 147.
Updated: 06/27/2017
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