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Highway History

Origins of the Interstate System

Origins of the Interstate Part 4 of 7


Because of this paramount Federal importance of the National Superhighways, the Federal government should contribute more largely to their improvement than to the other classes of roads. Such a larger contribution is justified by the large measure of Federal interest. It is desirable as a means for quickly bringing about the interstate long-distance routes, and provide for their consistent improvement throughout. And it is necessary, because of the inability of the State governments, unaided, to cope promptly and adequately with the financing.

Immediately after the selection of the routes to constitute the system, for instance, it will be necessary to acquire rights of way of sufficient width to protect the routes from encroachment and provide suitably for future expansion of paved width. This will be necessary in most places where existing alignment is incorporated as well as in the newly located sections, because existing right of ways are quite generally too narrow.

To forestall congestive ribbon development the right of ways should be acquired promptly and in the full width believed to be ultimately required. The unaided action of the States toward this end is not likely to be sufficiently prompt. Therefore, it is proposed that provision be made for loans by the Federal government to be repaid by the States, over a long period, either without interest or at a low rate.

It is also proposed that the Federal government assume one-half of the total cost of constructing and maintaining the National Superhighways, and provide the required sums by special appropriations to be administered by the Secretary of Agriculture in cooperation with the several State highway departments under rules and regulations similar to those governing the administration of the Federal Highway Act.

It was recommended that a Commission be appointed consisting of Federal and State highway officials to establish standards for the various classes of Federal aid. This did not survive in the final report.

It was also recommended that Congress pass a uniform highway traffic law applying to all roads constructed in whole or in part with Federal funds. Such a law would prescribe the maximum weights, dimensions, and speeds of vehicles and minimum requirements as to their tractive ability and their braking, lighting and tire equipment. This did not make it to the final report.

Presumably, a combination of this and Siegle's report is what went forward to the Administration. It is clear that the Administration suggested some changes. Secretary of Agriculture Wallace and Secretary of War Woodring in their letter of transmittal to the President said:

DEAR MR. PRESIDENT: In accord with your suggestion, the report of the Bureau of Public Roads which is now before you has been revised to present more clearly the need for a system on interregional through highways and the important relationships of such a system to the requirements of the national defense...

(Another unresolved question is why did the President choose to send this report to the Congress himself when the 1938 Act specified that the Bureau of Public Roads do the study? Clearly, the Administration chose to use the toll roads report as a vehicle for transmitting a broader proposal, just as BPR had chosen to make a proposal that extended beyond the charge of the Congress to evaluate toll roads. The final report was due in Congress on February 1 but did not go forward until April of 1939. This is a surprisingly short delay considering the magnitude of the rewrite that took place.)

President Roosevelt said in his letter of transmittal:

It (the report) emphasizes the need of a special system of direct interregional highways, with all necessary connections through and around cities, designed to meet the requirements of the national defense and the needs of a growing peacetime traffic of longer range.

It shows that there is need for superhighways, but makes it clear that this need exists only where there is congestion on the existing roads, and mainly in metropolitan areas. Improved facilities, needed for the solution of city street congestion, are shown to occupy a fundamental place in the general replanning of the cities indicated as necessary in the report "Our Cities", issued in September 1937 by the National Resources Committee.

The report also points definitely to difficulties of right-of-way acquisition as obstacles to a proper development of both rural highways and city streets, and makes important and useful recommendations for dealing with these difficulties.

I call the special attention of the Congress to the discussion of the principle of "excess-taking" of land for highways. I lay great emphasis on this because by adopting the principle of "excess-taking" of land, the ultimate cost to the Government of a great national system of highways will be greatly reduced.

(This was FDR's favorite highway topic and was not in the original BPR version.)

For instance, we all know that it is largely a matter of chance if a new highway is located through one man's land and misses another man's land a few miles away. Yet the man who, by good fortune, sells a narrow right-of-way for a new highway makes, in most cases, a handsome profit through the increase in value of all of the rest of his land. That represents an unearned increment of profit--a profit which comes to a mere handful of lucky citizens and which is denied to the vast majority.

(He never missed an opportunity to recount this story.)

Under the exercise of the principle of "excess-taking" of land, the Government, which puts up the cost of the highway, buys a wide strip on each side of the highway itself, uses it for the rental of concessions and sells it off over a period of years to home builders and others who wish to live near a main artery of travel. Thus the Government gets the unearned increment and reimburses itself in large part for the building of the road.

In its full discussion of the whole highway problem and the wealth of exact data it supplies, the report indicates the broad outlines of what might be regarded as a master plan for the development of all of the highway and street facilities of the Nation.

I recommend the report for the consideration of the Congress as a basis for needed action to solve our highway problems.


The building of the six super highways on the selected locations, to the high standards consistent with the indicated character of the proposed facilities, is entirely feasible.

On the basis of the investigation made and its results...a sound Federal policy for the construction of a system of transcontinental superhighways, traversing the entire extent of the United States from east to west and from north to south, cannot rest upon the expectation that the costs of constructing such a system as a whole would be recoverable in their entirety or in any large part from direct tolls collected from the users.

If...it is the desire of the Congress to make provision for construction of a section of highway...upon which there is a reasonable prospect of the recovery of the costs through tolls, it is recommended that such provision be made applicable to a section of highway...from...Washington, D.C.,...to Boston, Mass.

...there is included in this report a discussion of the most important problems confronting both the Federal and State Governments and their subdivisions with respect to highway facilities....the report lists several undertakings as follows:

  1. The construction of a special, tentatively defined system of direct interregional highways, with all necessary connections through and around cities, designed to meet the requirements of the national defense in time of war and the needs of a growing peacetime traffic of longer range.
  2. The modernization of the Federal-aid highway system.
  3. The elimination of hazards at railroad grade crossings.
  4. An improvement of secondary and feeder roads, properly integrated with land-use programs.
  5. The creation of a Federal Land Authority empowered to acquire, hold, sell, and lease lands needed for public purposes and to acquire and sell excess lands for the purpose of recoupment.

(This was clearly an Administration initiative and would not have come out of BPR.)

In the body of the report:

One of the striking characteristics common to all highway traffic...is the sharp enlargement ...of the volume of traffic on the important highways as they approach the larger cities...If we inquire into the reason for the failure to augment the traffic facility in proportion to the increase in traffic we usually encounter right-0f-way difficulties...the traffic congestion that exists on a main rural highway at the approach to a city is usually augmented on the connecting city street toward the center of the city...bypass routes are of advantage mainly to a relatively small part of the highway traffic normally approaching a city, i.e., to that small part of the traffic that is actually desirous of avoiding the city.

In numerous cities conditions of the sort here described are fast reaching a critical point. Some measures of relief are imperative, and the only course that promises a really satisfactory solution is the provision of adequate facilities for conduct of the heavier entering traffic streams through the city at or near its center, and on to appropriate exit points.

In the larger cities generally only a major operation will suffice--nothing less than the creation of a depressed or an elevated artery (the former usually to be preferred) that will convey the massed movement pressing into, and through, the heart of the city, under or over the local cross streets without interruption by their conflicting traffic.

In general...city administrations have been deterred...by what appear to be the literally stupendous difficulties and expense involved--difficulties and expense partly of an engineering nature, but first and usually in much the greater measure generated by the acquisition of right-of-way and the damage to, or obliteration of, private property.

...the motor vehicle...made possible the outward transfer...of citizens...to the suburbs and it now conveys these citizens back and forth to their offices and places of business.

The former homes of the transferred population have descended by stages to ...form the city's slums...the Federal Government is beginning to acquire them in batches in connection with its slum clearance projects...these acquisitions comprise one of the reasons for avoidance of delay in dealing with the problem of transcity highway connections and express highways.

Another reason lies in the fact that, here and there, in the midst of the decaying slum areas, substantial new properties of various sorts are beginning to rise--some created by private initiative, some by public.

There is growing danger that these new properties, sporadically arising, and the more compact developments by the Government in its slum-clearance projects, will block the logical projection of the needed new arteries into the city center...they should now be planned in order that their eventual courses may not be barred by newly created property.

There is another, perhaps still more important, reason for avoidance of delay in the carrying out, or at least in the planning, of new transcity arteries and express highways. It is that in the business district itself--in most cities, but particularly the older ones--there is a slow decay that will not be arrested until there is radical revision of the city plan. Such a revision will have to provide the greater space now needed for the unfettered circulation of traffic, and will have to permit a reintegration of facilities for the various forms of transportation--railway terminals, docks, airports and the highway approaches to each--more consistent with their modern relationships. For such a revision of the city plan decision upon the location and character of the new highway facilities here described is a basic necessity. Toward the actual accomplishment of the much needed revision, little else that might be done by Government would be so likely to supply the impetus.

Because of their urgent need to facilitate highway transportation where it is now most seriously hampered, and because of the impetus that through them may be given to needed changes in the central plan of our cities, the construction of transcity connections of the main rural highways and other express routes in the center of the cities ranks first in the list of highway projects worthy of consideration by the Congress. Possibly no other work that might be done would so profitably provide employment coincident with the centers of present unemployment.

(This very very strong and eloquent message on the urban problem in general and how highways could be the catalyst for change goes so far beyond the Congressional charge for the evaluation of coast-to-coast superhighways that one must conclude that the Administration, if not the President himself, chose to use this report as a vehicle for establishing a national urban policy and as a means of recommending legislation to the Congress.)


Next to provisions for the safer and more efficient conduct of large traffic streams into and across cities, the new facilities most urgently required are belt-line distribution roads around the larger cities and bypasses around many of the smaller cities and towns.

...the traffic on a main highway approaching a large city, that will use a bypass route if offered, is a small part of the total...Bypass routes, therefore, may not be regarded as means for the relief of congestion on the highway-connecting streets of large cities.

At all large cities, however, and many smaller ones, there is need for the construction of what are called in this report belt-line distribution roads. Such roads have some of the characteristics of bypass routes and may actually serve to bypass a considerable amount of through highway traffic around the city. Their primary purpose however, is something different.

The principal function of such a route is the distribution of traffic approaching the city on any highway, either to the other highways to which it may need to transfer or to points on the circumference of the city nearest the urban section of its ultimate destination, and the distribution of outbound traffic in a reciprocal manner...But if they are to be and remain the useful facilities they should be, they will have to possess one feature that is present in none or virtually none of the circuit routes thus far built around urban communities; i.e., they will have to permit access only at their points of junction with the main routes approaching the cities or town and a very limited number of intermediate points...and separated from all but a very limited number of the cross streets and highways intersected by them.

(Baltimore was used as an example of urban renewal needs and traffic data. A limited access freeway system was shown in artist's renderings of expressways. It is interesting that the beltway shown is just now, in 1986 being completed.)


Beyond the vicinity of cities the existing main rural highways of the United States lack...capacity...only at relatively few points.

Not only do the findings of the planning surveys show that beyond the vicinity of the cities there is no great mileage of the existing main rural highways that requires increase in the number of its lanes, but they also show the existence of a number of other conditions on a considerable part of the mileage that urgently require correction.

(I have underscored the above paragraph to call attention to the fact that traffic demand was not the driving force behind the rural Interstate beginnings.)

Unsatisfactory conditions in respect to sight distance, grade, and curvature are shown to be of common occurrence; and on some sections the conjunction of such unsatisfactory physical conditions of the highway with a bad accident record suggests the possibility that the highway conditions may be in some measure responsible for the fatal accidents that have occurred.

The more serious defects of the present roads--those that will involve in their correction a considerable loss of invested value, and that already have been responsible for a heavy obsolescence of the roads built--are consequences of another expedient adopted to hasten the extension of improvement in the pioneer period. That expedient was the acceptance of the existing rights-of-way of the preautomobile roads as the limits within which to place the new improvements. The sharp curvature and indirect alinement resulting from this policy are the causes of by far the greater part of the recognized present obsolescence of the main highway system...the only probability of material improvement lies in a general and substantial widening of the rights-of-way of the more important roads, together with effective border control.

...the provision of more direct routes for long distance, interregional movements-will involve the construction of considerable lengths of new and more direct highways to be used in place of existing indirect roads by the through traffic.

In consideration of this information and a knowledge of the general needs of the national defense received from previous advices of the War Department, a tentative selection of routes has been made which, comprising a 26,700-mile system, is shown on the map reproduced as plate 57.

(This map is unmistakably what became the Interstate System in later years and is the same one that appeared in the BPR draft.)

Wherever it may be done, consistent with the purpose of direct routing and other essential considerations, the suggested routes should follow the alinement of, and incorporate the improvement of, existing highways. Reasonably direct connection between the major cities along their general lines should be the controlling thought in choosing revised location. Deviation from such direct lines should not go far for any purpose, and should be accepted in limited degree only to pick up the largest intermediate towns.

The routes should enter and traverse all large cities by means of facilities adequately designed to promote free movement of traffic to and through the center of the city. At large cities, wherever necessary, limited access belt lines should also be provided; and all small communities should be bypassed-not entered. In general alinement the routes should be directed toward the center of large cities and past the sides of small towns...

All railroad grade crossings should be eliminated and all highway intersections should either be separated, closed, or positively protected...

The right to limit access should be acquired at all points and should be exercised...Approaching large cities and elsewhere, if necessary, bordering local-service roads should be provided.


The limited possibilities of acquisition of right-of-way was cited as the major cause of the failure to provide relief for all three traffic problems discussed, i.e., central urban congestion, the provision of beltways, and the reconstruction of the main intercity rural routes. The Federal government did not participate in the cost of right-of-way acquisition at that time.

The whole cycle of improvements to the road resulting in the encouragement of land use development, thus overloading the road which, in turn, made the provision of additional improvements to the road prohibitively costly was discussed. Many States did not have the legal power to deny access to abutting property owners and did not have the authority for "excess takings". These same problems, it was argued extend to urban renewal property takings, parks, open spaces, etc. Acquisition far in advance of the required improvements was suggested.


...the Federal Government can most helpfully contribute in the following ways:

  1. By facilitating the acquisition of adequate rights-of-way. To a great degree the early obsolescence of the rural highways previously built is due to the restrictions imposed upon their design by inadequate rights-of-way. In cities, archaic street plans are in need of major revision to permit the free flow of modern traffic. Far-sighted improvements of both rural highways and city streets are everywhere blocked by the inability of the States and local governments unaided, to provide the rights-of-way required; and there is danger that expedient measures forced by the irresistible pressure of traffic, will result in heavy new investment destined for early obsolescence...

    Effectively to administer such a provision would probably require the creation of a Federal Land Authority, having corporate status with adequate capitalization and authority to issue obligations within prescribed limits, which would be empowered to acquire, hold, sell, and lease lands for stated purposes...

    Problems of land acquisition similar to those described as affecting highways are also encountered in connection with public works of other categories carried out by the Federal Government, independently and in cooperation with States and their subdivisions; and in such connection their proper solution is equally basic to successful administration and correspondingly difficult. In connection with such other public works the aid of the proposed Federal Land Authority, if created, would be similarly useful and desirable...

  2. By providing, in cooperation with the States and the War Department, for detailed investigations leading to the designation of a system of reasonably direct interregional highways, with appropriate connections through and around cities, similar to the system tentatively selected and described in this report, and limited in total extent to not more than 1 percent of the total mileage of rural highways in the United States, without specific limitation in each State. In view of the predominant national importance of such a system, the Federal Government could reasonably contribute to its construction in a proportion materially larger than that in which it contributes under the Federal Highway Act...


MAY 1939

An example of the popularity of the superhighway idea was illustrated by the General Motors exhibit, Futurama. The following is quoted from a book "Interstate" by Mark H. Rose:

By 1960, a recorded voice promised visitors to General Motors' Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World's Fair, fourteen lane express roads would accommodate "traffic at designated speeds of 50, 75, and 100 miles an hour." Spectators, six hundred at a time, rode around GM's 35,738 square foot mock-up of future America while the synchronized recording in each chair continued. Automobiles from farm and feeder roads would "join the Motorway at the same speed as cars travelling in the lane they enter," and motorists would be able to "make right and left turns at speeds up to 50 miles per hour." In cities themselves, men would construct buildings of "breathtaking architecture," leaving space for "sunshine, light and air." Great sections of farm land, "drenched in blinding sunlight" according to an observer, were under cultivation and nearly in fruit. Traffic, whether in rural or urban areas, flowed along without delays and without hazard at intersections and railroad crossings. "Who can say what new horizons lie before us..." asked the voice on the record, "new horizons in many fields, leading to new benefits for everyone, everywhere." By mid-May, 1939 only a few weeks after the fair opened, Futurama was the most popular attraction.

During the first half of 1939, Roosevelt tried to add excess condemnation to federal highway practices. On March 22, he hosted a "no black tie--very informal" stag dinner at the White House for Norman Bel Geddes, designer of GM's Futurama exhibit at the World's Fair. The West Hall was set aside, on Roosevelt's instructions, for a model of Geddes'exhibit, and guests discussed creation of a Federal Land Authority empowered to take extra wide rights-of-way for roads and other public works. Both the President and Congressional leaders sought a data and legal base on which to launch their authority. On April 24, Roosevelt told one of his aides to "Find out from MacDonald of Highways where...I can find anything about...buying a wide strip and selling off the surplus land and renting gasoline concessions."

Excess condemnation and creation of a Land Authority...appeared in Roosevelt's mind as budget cutting measures. Unless tolls were collected and land adjacent to roads sold at a profit, he wrote to Budget Director Bell and Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes on April 1, 1939, "The Treasury is unable to finance even the beginning" of a national superhighway program.

W.W. Mack, President of AASHO in 1939 and Chief Engineer of Delaware, had this to say at the annual convention in October:


In 1914, hardly half the states had State Highway Departments.

In Delaware, two years earlier, Senator Coleman du Pont, an engineer and business executive of great ability and foresight, was at work with his own funds on the 100-mile boulevard which now bears his name, and which constitutes a part of U.S. Route 13 and 113. This highway as planned at the time had a 200-foot right of way, by-passed towns, and traversed the State with grades and alignment conforming to the demands of present day super highways. However, it was so far ahead of its time that even its tireless and aggressive builder was obliged to change his plans and for several years was thwarted in his attempts to make a present of this magnificent highway to his State.


It is evident that there are those who, seeing what appears to be a desired end, the results of which should be beneficial to the public, propose to hasten its accomplishment by the abolition of local or State control of the education of our youth, with the use of Federal funds as an opiate to soothe the objections of those who fear the influence of Federal domination over our schools.

This same theory is being advanced in many fields. Federal funds are looked upon as manna from heaven, even though the returns to the States from which they originally come are usually reduced by a substantial toll, even as the grist which came from the old grist mill.

Certain European highways have been much praised in this country, though little has been said of the purposes for which they were built, of the methods of land acquisition and financing, of the low wages paid the laborers, or the meager traffic which they serve.

Before we demand a national network of super highways let us be sure we need them and let us be sure in return that in getting them we do not place in the hands of anyone, no matter how benevolent, a club to swing at our heads, or to whom we must come as supplicants for mercy or favors.

One of the latest proposals is to extend the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Harrisburg to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The Engineering News Record well says in a recent editorial that "such loose thinking shows how imperative is the need of integrating highway planning with national transport planning."

Is it too much to suggest that a comprehensive study of all forms of transportation, by land, air and water, similar in scope to the Toll Road Report (Toll Roads and Free Roads), should be made, with a view to determining so far as possible the proper place each has in an integrated and economic system of nation wide transportation?


I also maintain that this Association should give most careful consideration before supporting any proposal which would increase the authority of the Federal government in road building, at the expense of the States, whether it be for the building of a federally constructed and operated system of super highways, toll or free; the loaning of large sums of money for the construction of a system of super highways which are not needed at present and may never be economically justified, or the Federal construction and maintenance of highways, and the purchase of lands, without the consent of the individual States.


The monumental report of the Chief of the Bureau of Public Roads to the Congress under the Act of June 8, 1938, by its completeness and clarity should mark an epoch in highway thinking in America, and has cleared away a mass of illfounded theories and misinformation.

While it has proven conclusively the falsity of a super system of toll super highways, and has established the practicability of definite limited sections of toll super highways, it does not establish the desirability of federally owned and operated toll roads even in these selected localities, or appraise definitely the effect that such construction would have on existing highway facilities now operated by the States.

Nor does this report indicate the necessity of greatly increased highway facilities generally, except in the vicinity of centers of large population, where Federal aid in the purchase of rights of way in the form of grants or long term loans, seems a proposal of much worth.

At the same meeting, MacDonald reaffirmed the greatness of the partnership and reassured AASHO that the transfer of BPR from Agriculture was no problem for them. He deplored the decline of highway user revenues and again urged that planning surveys were the way out of the dilemma. He defended BPR's data demands and stated that a speed up of the planning surveys was in order to plan for defense. He described Toll Roads and Free Roads and labeled it a program for the future and a product of the planning surveys. It is interesting that the speech is primarily an appeal for cooperation and a tribute to the highway partnership and mentions the report Toll Roads and Free Roads almost as an afterthought. He seemed to down-play the urban aspects of the report which was the primary emphasis. He did not mention the concept of "excess takings" which was so dear to FDR and was central in the report. In retrospect, that report was the most important highway document of the century since it led directly to the establishment of the Interstate System. It is quite clear that MacDonald did not believe that he had an action-plan in hand yet and that a great deal more planning and analysis was necessary.

By this time, war was in the air and, as in World War I, the highway program began to suffer. W. Markham, Executive Secretary of AASHO, had this to say at the annual meeting in October of 1939:


This present Congress has appropriated or authorized for appropriation over 16 billion dollars, mostly under the dramatic urge of national defense, and yet they spent 8 months haggling over whether they should expend on highways important for national defense less than 1 per cent of that amount. And then to make assurance double sure, they increased the direct tax on the road user for more than enough to pay the entire bill-leaving the former direct tax on the highway user to go "scott-free" for expenditures which have not even an indirect relationship to the use of the highways. Within the past few weeks the Federal government has provided authorizations covering regular Federal Aid, secondary roads and grade crossing funds for each of the years 1942 and 1943...It is quite evident that this year the road user will be very fortunate indeed if 30 per cent of his tax is expended on State roads...

It's all well enough to talk about the need of a mechanized army, but a mechanized army for national defense will not function by air or water transportation.

This situation cannot be charged to the Road Committees of the Congress. Those who are familiar with the present processes of legislation know where to place the responsibility.

The fact that the Federal government admittedly spent last year over $881,000,000 through WPA on functions labeled "roads and streets" does not change the picture so far as defense highways are concerned, for reports by State Highway Departments to our office show that less than 2,500 miles of highways on the State systems received any of this $881,000,000 expenditures and much of the expenditure on that mileage had nothing to do with betterments on pavement itself.

But, Uncle Sam's dereliction is not the whole story. Many State governments have likewise vitiated the road users contributions to highways. In one State the diverting to purposes other than for highways, of contributions from highway users, exceeded 50 per cent of the total taxes paid. And in many others the percentage is exceedingly high...

In a speech to the American Petroleum Industries in November of 1939, MacDonald described Toll Roads and Free Roads as a "Highway Program For the United States." This is a summary:

He defended Democracy and said that Superhighways as in Europe were not the American way which was building highways in the order of traffic service. MacDonald held to the above principle that roads should be built in the order of traffic service throughout his professional career. This principle was violated many times in the highway program, however. The huge sums that were poured into the program for unemployment relief were based on exactly the opposite premise. He introduced Toll Roads and Free Roads and stated that the highway departments were the key to its implementation, but they must go urban and they must base the national program on planning survey data. It is somewhat anomalous to contend that Toll Roads and Free Roads was based on the premise of building according to the priority of traffic service since the primary emphasis of the report, aside from the toll analysis which was indeed based on planning survey data, was on Depression relief and urban renewal based on comprehensive city planning principles articulated by the National Resources Planning Board. It was clearly stated in Toll Roads and Free Roads that the recommendation to rebuild the main intercity 1% Federal-aid system was not based on traffic congestion, but on safety considerations caused by sharp curves, steep grades and poor sight distances caused by adherence to pre-automobile era rights-of-way. The report stated that there was no lack of capacity except in the vicinity of large urban areas.

He spoke to the American Automobile Association that same month. He said that the Planning Surveys should be the basis of the development of a truly National urban and rural plan and to avoid partisanship. The Master National plan should be based on traffic use and that would automatically deal the urban areas in. He described the recommendations of Toll Roads and Free Roads and advocated that construction of the Interregional system should begin in the hearts of the cities and that the highway departments were the key to success of a National plan and asked that AAA promote the concept at the local levels throughout the country. It is clear that MacDonald didn't think that the report to the Congress of Toll Roads and Free Roads was sufficient in and of itself. It was necessary to build a constituency of interest groups behind it, especially the highway departments and it was necessary to figure out how to fund it since the report was silent on that aspect.

In January 1940, the House began hearings on highway legislation for 1942 and 1943. The second section of the bill, or Title II, was an effort to set up the matter of Federal participation with the States in some method of securing rights-of-way. It empowered the Commissioner of Public Roads to acquire property needed for roads by purchase or eminent domain and to lease, sell or otherwise dispose of it. It authorized the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to sell bonds to provide the money to the Commissioner on his certification.

President Henry F. Cabell testified for AASHO:

Now, before coming again to the general question of road needs, I should like to briefly discuss Title II. In the early days of construction the main problem was the main highways of the country in rural areas. They had little responsibility for construction in cities. However, now that some considerable progress has been made in the main rural highways they have gradually found that an increasingly great problem is the confusion in getting the traffic which is brought into cities by the main rural roads, into and through the cities. The first reaction of the highway engineer was, "Well, we are interested in the through traveler. Let's get around the cities." and quite a number of efforts were made to build by-pass routes. These by-pass routes in many cases have a very real purpose. If you have a main highway carrying primarily long-distance traffic, many hundreds of cars a day and you come to a relatively small town, most of these people probably want to go through it without stopping. And, there, if you can by-pass by a slight distance the little knot of congestion in the small town you have probably served the main purpose of pleasing the motorists whose money you are spending.

But recent investigations, that is origin and destination surveys which have been made, show that when you come to large cities if you take a traffic check at the edge of a large city, even on a main road coming into it, you will find frequently a very, very substantial majority of these motorists do not intend to go through that city without stopping and therefore the by-pass route would not serve the purpose...Therefore, if the purpose of a highway engineer entrusted with the motorists' money is to do the most good to those motorists who furnish the money, then he must consider the needs of those motorists who wish to enter into the city and incidentally take care of a need felt by all the other city residents as well.

I have seen a steadily growing realization of that feeling among highway officials in the last five years until many who up until that time were largely rural-road-minded, without giving up any of their interest in rural roads, have realized they have an urban problem to face as well. I think this new viewpoint has been influenced to a considerable extent by Mr. MacDonald. He has made several addresses to our Association and talked to many of us in private. I think I can say that that viewpoint has largely culminated in the report that he made a year or so ago on toll roads, in which he pointed out many of the things I just said, and stressed the necessity of in some way solving the problem of getting traffic into and through cities as well as up to and around them.


In May of 1941, MacDonald addressed the National Conference on Planning and talked about the prospects for a "New Federal Highway Program":

One of the purposes in these surveys (the planning surveys) was to gather the facts that would dispel the "good enough" idea (the idea that the highway system was good enough and that the country could take a holiday from road building). The broader purpose was to provide a sound factual base on which to establish the revised highway programs and policies that are needed to cope with problems of a sort that were not apparent when the policies and programs still followed were devised.

It had been our hope that the clear indications of these surveys would have led, before now, to the establishment of a vigorous attack by the Federal government upon some of the newer phases of the highway problem, a Federal attack which would supply the needed incentive and correlating directive to State and local attacks upon the same problems. A first draft of a plan of campaign was presented in the report Toll Roads and Free Roads which the President transmitted to Congress with recommendation of favorable action in the spring of 1939.

All such hopes are now deferred by reason of the more urgent necessities of the general defense program; and so once again, as has happened more than once in the past, needs of the moment have intervened to divert and delay a logical evolution of the program of road and street building. But this time there is no question that the needs of the moment are the higher needs, and there is also no question that they are in many cases acute needs, which involve directly the efficiency of the defense program.

He noted that by and large the highways were adequate for defense purposes and that only about 15 per cent of the bridges needed strengthening.

Studies of the probable needs of this category (military installations) were begun by the Public Roads Administration and State highway departments early in 1940. In response to a direction of the President these studies were broadened and revised as required by later developments, and a report of the more important needs was prepared as of February 1 of this year.

In the same report we presented the determined needs of improvements on the strategic network, scaled down to the very minimum of absolute necessities.

Every possible effort has been made to apply to these necessary defense road improvements the presently available funds administered by the Public Roads Administration and the Work Projects Administration, which are the only Federal funds available for the purpose. After all had been done that could be done in this way, there remained unprovided for on April 26 at only 204 of the 288 reservations and sites certified as important up to that date more than $122,000,000 worth of unfinanced work, work that can not be undertaken on the terms applying to the expenditure of presently available funds.

Similarly, despite a willingness of State cooperation indicated by an obligation of more than 50 percent of the apportioned Federal-aid funds to defense road needs, it will be impossible in any near future to meet even the minimum requirements of the Strategic Network with Federal-aid funds appropriated for the program as now constituted.

One recommendation that was made in the defense road report went beyond the urgent needs of the present. It was a recommendation of the appropriation of $12,000,000 to be matched equally by the States and used as a fund for the detailed planning of a shelf of important deferrable highway projects to be undertaken after the present emergency. Identical in motive with the similar recommendation of the National Resources Planning Board applying to public works of all kinds, it is the hope that this money if provided will permit a definite start to be made upon the planning of some of the more important facilities comprised in the Interregional highway system recommended two years ago in the report Toll Roads and Free Roads. (Note here that MacDonald linked the Toll Roads and Free Roads Report to the National Resources Planning Board.)

Added confidence that a program such as was roughly sketched in that report will eventually receive Federal support is given by the President's recent action in appointing a National Interregional Highway Committee to advise the Federal Works Administrator after a review of the available information on the need for such a program and the means by which it may be accomplished.

He pointed out that Toll Roads and Free Roads recommended a total balanced program and not just interregional highways.

It is believed that such an integrated program should be, and now can be defined, by agreement, in each State and in the country at large, upon the general objectives to be attained in a relatively long period (say 20 years), and by the more detailed planning of a consistent partial program realizable within the limits of the definitely scheduled and anticipated revenues to accrue within a shorter period (say 10 years).

It is to some such total program as this, the Federal Government taking its appropriate share, that we look forward, hopeful that it may be in some measure realized in a happier and more peaceful period after the war.

MacDonald was chairman of the Interregional Highway Committee, G. Donald Kennedy, Michigan Highway Commission was vice chairman. Other members were C.H. Purcell, California highway department, Frederick A. Delano, Chairman of the National Resources Planning Board and FDR's relative, Harland Bartholomew, famed city planner from St. Louis who later became the chairman of the National Capitol Parks and Planning Commission, and Rexford Guy Tugwell, chairman, New York City Planning Commission and a key figure in the Roosevelt Administration. The important point that I am making here is the strong connection of the genesis of the Interstate System to the National Resources Planning Board, the Administration, the city planning profession and urban problems.

It appears that the Committee was appointed originally to expedite the implementation of Toll Roads and Free Roads and then changed its goals to planning for a post-war program. The President's charge to them was to report to him by October of 1941. With the outbreak of war, the work of the Committee languished and finally, in July of 1943, the Congress "Authorized and directed the Commissioner of Public Roads to make a survey of the need for a system of express highways throughout the United States, the number of such highways needed, the approximate routes which they should follow, and the approximate cost of construction, and to report to the Congress within 6 months..." The Congress was clearly looking for a post-war program by then. Their action spurred the Committee back into activity.

In September of 1941, just before Pearl Harbor, MacDonald addressed the 27th annual meeting of AASHO. He berated some States for failing to undertake defense highway work. This speech typified the shifting of National priorities toward defense and the widening gulf between the Federal Government and the highway departments. The Federal Government was trying to organize defense resources but very little money was appropriated specifically for that purpose so the highway departments were inclined to use Federal aid for the regular program which didn't necessarily square with defense priorities:

In a few States, it may be accented, in a very few States, there has been a meager response. The theory advanced is that defense highways are a responsibility of the national government. This attitude prompts the question - whose nation is this?

The defense effort up to that time had been to urge the highway departments to reorient their regular Federal-aid program to defense projects. MacDonald assured AASHO that special legislation was in the offing to augment the regular program.

He enumerated the parts of the defense program:

  1. Designation of the Strategic Network.
  2. Access Roads to Military Installations and War Production Plants.
  3. Alternate and Auxiliary Routes for Civilian Defense.
  4. Highway Maintenance and Replacement Program.
  5. Priorities on Materials and Equipment.
  6. Highway Traffic Advisory Committee to the War Department.
  7. Central Motor Transportation Committee.
  8. Committee to Investigate Non-essential Federal Expenditures.

Immediately after our entry into the war MacDonald began the campaign for a post-war program that would follow the goals of Toll Roads and Free Roads in an address to the Highway Officials of the North Atlantic States:

Foremost on the "shelf" of public works to be made available in the future, not alone in response to pent-up needs but by reason of long-standing neglect, is the type of project concerned with urban redevelopment and housing. Conditions resulting from rapid changes incident to modern industrial development and in methods of transportation have been permitted to lapse. Problems of traffic congestion, of the lack of coordination of all transportation, of inadequate parking space for motor vehicles, of over-dense populations and needed recreational areas, have not been frankly met in the past, cannot be adequately dealt with in the present emergency, but will have to be faced in the future. The need for the extensive replanning and rebuilding of our American cities and towns will require the combined efforts of our several administrative agencies of Federal, State and local government together with the maximum aid of private enterprise. It is to be hoped that such rebuilding may be the result of rationalization of our needs rather than the result of the wholesale devastation that is war.

In his retirement speech to AASHO in December of 1942, W.C. Markham, long-time Executive Director had this to say about the war effort:

While this Association was organized in 1914 and this is the Twenty-eighth Annual Meeting, it was not until December, 1922, that the General Offices were established. Our first annual report, therefore, appeared the following year.

This report was 13 pages of mimeograph work and contained three tables. It would be interesting to know how many highway departments have a copy of that report. That year road construction was financed 51.8 per cent from a direct property tax, 35.8 per cent from auto licenses, and only 9.5 per cent from gas tax.

It is somber news, however, to realize that you are not permitted to spend in 1942 (except mainly in bond reductions and some maintenance) what has already been paid in by the road user for road work this year, due in great measure to inability to secure materials.

The complete curtailment of the construction of passenger cars and light trucks, the almost complete cessation of the purchase of tires for such vehicles, together with the Federal restrictions upon the purchase of gas and the limitation of mileage per year in the use of a car, means that within the next six months the receipts of the State Highway Departments from the sale of gas and the collections from motor license fees will be reduced at least 50 per cent.

Eliminate any Federal funds except on the "Strategic Net" dictated by the War Department, cut your gas tax receipts and motor license fees in twain, allow for fixed charges which must be maintained, and you have a fairly good picture of the financial set-up for your work for at least the coming year.

Aside from the necessities of food and clothing, there is no activity of this generation the lack of which has dislocated the every-day functioning of our daily lives as much as the disruption and elimination of highway transportation. For that very reason the duties and responsibilities of road men will increase rather than diminish.

Since our last meeting the Congress passed what is known as the "Defense Highway Act." This law defined the "Strategic Network of Highways", extended the Federal-aid road system to include any additional road mileages that the War Department might designate, set up 25 million dollars to be matched by the States to be expended on the "Strategic" system, gave 25 million dollars to the Federal Works Administrator to be expended as he might decide, provided 260 million dollars for "access roads", 10 million for "flight strips," and 10 million dollars for surveys and plans.

"Most activities of States have been circumscribed by Federal control, at least "for the duration." Oh, Duration! How many crimes are committed in thy name! Some people would like to have many of these "Federal control" activities made permanent. That has already become a question of vital interest in many particulars. So far as our own work is concerned, about all that is left is the right to secure a bucket of sand where it is native. (Apparently this was a reference to the inability to obtain construction materials.) Bureaus, which had been created and were in operation in Washington when we convened last year, have either passed into innocuous desuetude or have been submerged to become the wobbling foundation of other bureaus-so that the question has arisen as to when a series of bureaus become a highboy!

There are now so many supervisors that they have become as hard up for initial labels as the proverbial namer for Pullman cars. And yet they seem to have overlooked that very valuable nomenclature P.D.Q.

Just one month ago the National Resources Planning Board filed with Congress a 513, nine by twelve page report, printed last May and begun in 1940. (The name of the Report is Transportation and National Policy. The highway section was written by Wilfred Owen for Thomas H. MacDonald.) This report is set up for the definite purpose of creating another Federal alphabet bureau to be known as the National Transportation Agency. They propose legislative direction to coordinate Federal transportation activities and "absorb existing development agencies." This agency would "undertake leadership in programs for transport consolidation, terminal unification and reconstruction, coordination of the various transport media and encouragement of the development of new forms of transport within their respective economic spheres." Probably when these plans are set out in bills before the next Congress you will have a better idea what they are driving at.

As a part justification for the recommendations in this report, the Administration in sending the report to Congress stated that the Federal Government's expenditures on transportation facilities of all types are amounting to about $1,000,000,000 a year. So far as State Highway Departments are concerned, the regular Federal-aid payments to the States in 1941 amounted to about $157,000,000, which was barely 8 per cent of the total outlay of the State Highway Departments. The 1942 Federal payments will be much less.

In one of the tables of this report we find that the Federal Government has spent in the past six years through WPA, on what they designate as "highways," more money than has been paid out of the Federal Treasury for regular Federal aid, emergency Federal aid, forest roads and public land roads, during the past 25 years ($3,739,000,000 over against $3,694,000,000). These huge expenditures by the Federal Government in these half-dozen years may be justified in the eyes of those who spent it but much of it certainly cannot be properly labeled "highway expenditures" as such and therefore does not add to the argument that something further should be done by the Federal Government in extending its supervision over the States in building their roads.

Among the new conditions proposed upon which Federal aid would be granted, is "Federal participation to call for the limitation of turnover in State Highway Departments."

On highway financing they propose this brand new idea, namely: "State-wide systems of highways, specified in each State to be financed entirely through motor vehicle taxes."

Federal aid for highways is to be provided through a Federal tax on gasoline, the proceeds of which would be returned to the States on a "need basis." The question immediately arises as to who shall decide as to the "need basis" of the several States.

But why stop with that. It has already been suggested that all gasoline tax be collected by the Federal Government and then prorated to the States by a Washington bureau who shall determine the allotment to projects on its conception of the economic benefits to be derived from such expenditures.

In the meantime the war goes on. Highway transportation facilities are keyed to the task and cooperation between the Federal road department and the State Highway Departments is functioning effectively without any scholastically visioned pronouncement delaying the job.

Since the report Transportation and National Policy was so roundly criticized by Mr. Markham, it will be reviewed here. The study was commissioned in January of 1940 at the request of President Roosevelt. The principal thrust of the report was economic development and had its beginnings as one of the attempts by the Administration to find ways out of the Great Depression. The advent of the war changed the flavor to post-war planning aimed at preventing a recurrence of the Depression.

The report presents an excellent history of transportation in general and the development and operation of the railroads in particular.

The sections relevant to highways are excerpted below.


Motor Transport: Resurgent after the lean years of rubber and gasoline rationing, with completely new productive capacity and new designs in automotive equipment freed from the shackles of the past; new interregional highways and urban express routes planned for construction in the transition period (from war to peace) to take up the slack in employment.

Highway facilities cannot continue to lag behind developments in the vehicle to the extent that they have in the past. Many of the most important developments in future motor transport economy and service will be of no avail without extensive modernization of the highways themselves ...Significant economies are possible through the provision of highway capacity sufficient to minimize congestion, and through the proper application of traffic engineering principles to eliminate unnecessary stops and starts and interferences to the free flow of traffic. In the future there must be a realization of the importance of adequate grade separation structures at busy intersections, the separation of opposing traffic lanes, and the protection of traffic from encroachments of real estate development adjacent to the highway.

Efficiency of highway operations is affected by considerations generally beyond the control of commercial operators or private users. Inadequate traffic engineering in congested urban areas often results in poor use of available facilities and produces serious losses to operators and patrons of motor vehicles.

In rural areas the most obvious source of diseconomies is the multiplicity of small governmental units participating in the highway program. In many cases the county, township, or special road district has neither the size nor wealth to support an adequate technical staff or necessary roadbuilding equipment. As a result, proper planning, budgeting, and accounting practices are often neglected; and the local road program, taken as a whole, is generally confined to maintenance operations of little consequence applied to a patchwork development. In view of these considerations there is need for greater consolidation and strengthening of the local roadbuilding function.


Many years ago the objective of public promotion was simply to provide more facilities, for at that time the principal problem was the undersupply of transportation service. Today, however, the problem has shifted from one of unlimited expansion to one of coordination, greater efficiency, and the correction of inadequacies. In spite of these altered circumstances, Federal promotional policy continues to be concerned mainly with the promotion of more and more transportation capacity. Moreover, operating through separate public agencies, each acting as the special advocate of one form of transportation, the Federal Government spends an average of more that a billion dollars a year for transportation facilities without comprehensive plans.


...Other possibilities of planning through transport activities lie in the rehabilitation of depressed sections in urban areas and the provision of housing and recreation projects which are to a considerable extent dependent for their success upon transport accommodations supplied in connection with them. In addition such programs urgently require the wholesale rebuilding of the city terminal areas to eliminate the blight surrounding them and to permit desirable uses for potentially valuable sites abandoned because of congested, unsightly, and unhealthy conditions. In rural areas transport development must be coordinated with appropriate land use by judicious planning of local road systems and abandonment of unnecessary mileage.

If broad reforms of this sort are to be made the object of public policy, it is apparent that transportation is related to them so directly that it can be made an instrument for achieving them. But it should be recognized that the present tenets of regulation would require great expansion to embrace those ends.


A National Transportation Agency should be established to coordinate all Federal development activity in transportation along the lines of a general and progressive plan under appropriate legislative directives.

The highway transportation industry and the Federal and State governments should undertake now the task of assuring the restoration of motor transport after the war on a modern and efficient basis. Leadership in this program should be undertaken by the proposed Transportation Agency, with special reference to the power inherent in the control of Federal promotional funds.


Major emphasis in future highway development must be directed to the provision of express highways and off-street parking in urban areas. Under the guidance of the proposed Transportation Agency, the Federal-aid program and the distribution of State motor vehicle revenues to municipalities should be revised to cope adequately with the magnitude of the urban problem.


Immediate authority should be granted to permit the Federal Government to acquire and finance land acquisitions at the request of State and local governments, as well as for Federal promotional agencies. Properties acquired for State and local governments would be repurchased from the Federal Government on such terms as the proposed Transportation Agency may determine to be suitable.


Inevitable readjustments following the present war will require far-reaching participation in productive investment designed to stimulate and maintain a high level of national income. Although billions of dollars have been spent in the past to provide emergency relief employment on transportation projects, results have been grossly inadequate in the light of what might have been attained.

The transportation industries properly developed and coordinated as contemplated in this report, offer some of the most promising opportunities for wise investment. Public expenditures aimed at securing lasting enhancement of the national income, however, must be carefully planned in the field of productive enterprise. Both the formulation and the execution of such plans must be the special province of the proposed Transportation Agency, to the end that the transportation industries may make their contribution toward bridging the transition between war and peace and in order that the Nation may build a transportation system commensurate with our material resources, our technological possibilities, and the resourcefulness of our people.

By early 1943, the highway program was effectively shut down. Money was available from past apportionments but it couldn't be used because approval to build was granted only if the War Department certified that the project was essential to the national defense and the War Production Board agreed to grant a priority so that scarce materials could be obtained. The production of automobiles had been suspended, tires and gasoline were rationed, and a 35-mile per hour speed limit was in effect. Both in AASHO and in the Congress thoughts were turning to the development of a post-war program. Excerpts from hearings in 1943 follow:

Senator Carl Hayden, Arizona, Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads, United States Congress:

When this war is over, there will be an immediate necessity of assuring employment for thousands of honorably discharged Army and Navy men. The American Association of State Highway Officials estimates that each billion dollars expended upon highway work will give employment for approximately 750,000 men for a period of one year.

In view of these facts, there can be no question but what it is of paramount importance for our Federal government to aid the States in every possible way in the planning and engineering of a large scale nation-wide post-war highway improvement and development program. S. 821 constitutes a step in this direction.

Hon. J.W. Robinson, Utah, Chairman House Committee on Roads:

Mr. Speaker, a few days ago there appeared before your Committee on Roads representation from 24 of our 48 States. They were high officials in the American Association of State Highway Officials. At that time the President of the Association and other officers presented to your committee a very constructive program, which in the opinion of this Association, should immediately be carried out.

Excerpts from those statements follow:

Fred R. White, Chief Engineer, Iowa:

We have two matters which we wish to present to you. One of these matters pertains to the approximate $175,000,000 of regular Federal-aid road funds...heretofore authorized by the Congress and allotted to the States, but which funds the States have been unable to expend because of restrictions growing out of the war effort...It would appear that since the States have been unable to expend these funds through no fault of their own, but through a war condition which we were all unable to avoid, the reversion and reallocation of these funds should be suspended during this war emergency.

The other matter...is a forward-looking suggestion for the post-war period....In addition to preventing the reversion and reallocation of these funds, this bill would make such existing funds available for use by the Public Roads Administration in cooperation with the State Highway Departments for the purchase of rights-of-way and for the making of surveys and plans for highway projects to be constructed in the post-war period when unemployment problems will be pressing for solution.

He presented the bill which would have allowed the obligation of the funds for projects to be built after the war.

Brady Gentry, Texas, President of AASHO, who would later become a Congressman and play a key roll in Interstate legislation, made a long presentation giving the extent of the highway system, its condition, and the employment implications of a post-war program:

It must be remembered that before contracts can be let for highway construction aggregating one billion dollars the State Highway Departments must make surveys, secure rights-of-way, and draft detailed plans, at a total cost of approximately $200,000,000. It will take time to complete these various steps. This vitally demonstrates why the program must be assured by congressional action before the States undertake such an effort.

There is now much planning - or, at least, talk of planning-for the post-war period. The country seems to be full of planning agencies and societies. All plans envision a noble purpose-putting idle men to work, stabilizing employment, maintaining the national income, and finally assuring a measure of prosperity for our people. They seek to avoid the mountain tops of booms and the deep valleys of depression and aim instead at economic evenness and stability.

...the Congress should authorize the Public Roads Administration and the State Highway Departments to invest every dollar that is economically possible on the Nation's highway transportation system in the three years immediately following the war.

He proposed a billion dollars per year for three years to be authorized immediately but execution held in abeyance pending the cessation of war. The program would be delivered through conventional Federal-aid system and legislation.

In February of 1943, MacDonald made an informal talk to the Association of Highway Officials of the North Atlantic States. This speech was not released for publication. It was the most frank and candid speech of MacDonald's that I have seen. He spoke about the procedures that the highway program was required to follow during war-time in order to get projects approved. He outlined the tremendously complicated procedures promulgated. First, all projects had to be classified as essential to the war effort by the military or the War Production Board. Second, materials were allocated to various industries in a rationed fashion. Third, machinery and equipment was handled by yet another process. The net result was practically no projects were undertaken even though regular Federal aid was available. He deplored the lack of perception of the Administration of the highway system as being a critical war-time resource. He noted that the President of AASHO had taken up residence in Washington to try to change the unfavorable situation in regard to highways.

He urged the preparation of post-war plans as a defense against more PWA type programs and urged that they use the Planning Surveys for that purpose. He complimented Robert Moses and his planning for New York and the development of modern highways that would pay for themselves.

In December of 1943, He told AASHO:

...When the history of this war period is carefully reviewed, I am convinced serious students will certainly question why such meager provision has prevailed for the maintenance and replacement of the facilities and plants of land transportation which is so essentially a part both of war production and war operations, disregarding the added factor of preserving the civilian economy...the next months must produce increased allocations of the requirements to serve land transportation, both rail and highway...

The rapidly dwindling construction program is indicated by the following figures showing the comparative highway system mileage placed under construction with cooperative Federal funds, in the first ten months of this and the previous three years:

1940........11,842.6 Miles

If this situation continues, the reservoir will soon be dry.

He spoke of the necessity for the development of "stand-by" plans for post-war work in two categories. First the repair and rehabilitation of the system deterioration due to the deferred program and heavy war-time traffic. Second, new projects that could be put under contract to whatever level was necessary, depending upon the unemployment situation.

The "stand-by" program ready for immediate use should be at least equivalent to that employed on PWA road and street projects at the average annual rates attained in the pre-war depression period...

The Hon. J.W. Robinson, Chairman, House Committee on Roads, United States Congress, addressed the American Road Builders' Association early in 1943 which was scheduled to be the year for comprehensive post-war highway legislation:

Winning the peace is not a job we can postpone until the war is won. It is how we work and how we plan while winning the war that will spell victory or defeat in the battle for a worthwhile peace.

Each time we have engaged in war it has taken us three or more miserable years to climb back onto our feet. But this is a war that surpasses our wildest nightmares. This time we must meet the peace and remain on our feet, or we may stay down forever...

And when I say plans, I mean a fully worked out program, complete with specifications, cost estimates and other preliminary details. I mean plans so complete that the first pinch of war industry layoffs can be relieved without doing injury; so complete that materials can be absorbed as soon as industry can convert to peacetime production. Much of this work must be done by the road builders. Your place in the post-war picture cannot be overemphasized.

The House Committee on Roads is now preparing to consider bills designed to meet present and post-war problems. We sincerely hope to have the legislative machinery thoroughly set up, greased and ready to move forward when the present conflict comes to an end.

... H.R. 2426 is now in its preliminary stages in Congress. It has been endorsed wholeheartedly and unanimously by the State Highway Officials. Exhaustive public hearings on the provisions of this bill, and a thorough investigation by the House Roads Committee of the entire road problem will be under way in a few weeks.

As this bill is now written, it authorizes an appropriation by the Federal Government of three billion dollars which would become available at the rate of one billion dollars each year for three years, beginning immediately upon the termination of the present emergency... (This is what AASHO asked for.)

The bill would also provide a new formula for the allocation of funds...In drafting the proposed legislation, we have done so with the full realization that by far the greater proportion of highway traffic is in and around the urban centers. We have realized that our major job in the future will be to provide adequate belt routes around, and adequate arterial highways into and through these centers-and, in doing the job, to provide the off-street parking facilities within the cities necessary to make the plan workable. We also anticipate that the labor and unemployment problems will be most acute in the thickly populated areas...

"The bill further provides for an interregional highway system not exceeding forty thousand miles, so located as to connect all the principal municipal and industrial centers with each other and to meet at suitable border points with routes of continental importance in the Dominion of Canada and the Republic of Mexico..."

(It is puzzling that he indicated that 40,000 miles was in the draft bill long before the Interregional Highway Committee made its report which recommended 33,920 miles.)

In our consideration of the post-war problem, we may well find that the present system of allocation to the states calls for radical revision. It has been suggested with considerable force that individual cities and counties possessing adequate engineering departments should be treated separately by the Roads Administration. Since many of the most urgently needed improvements are centered in urban areas, it may be that such a plan has sufficient merit to warrant its inclusion in the highway act. This problem will unquestionably be considered by the committee.

In July H.R. 2798 passed instead of the planned comprehensive post-war highway legislation. The delay was primarily due to AASHO's inability to arrive at a consensus as will be explained later by Brady Gentry. Basically 2798 prevented the lapsing of prior year funds that the States were unable to obligate and made them eligible for the preparation of post-war plans. Section 5 required the "Commissioner of Public Roads to make a survey of the need for a system of express highways throughout the United States, the number of such highways needed, the approximate routes which they should follow, and the approximate cost of construction; and to report to the President and to Congress, within six months after the date of enactment of this Act, the results of such survey together with such recommendations for legislation as is deemed advisable."

It is not exactly clear what the Congress had in mind with Section 5. The Interregional Highway Committee was then at work doing just what Section 5 called for but it was way behind schedule. The President had originally asked for the report by October of 1941. It could be that the Congress simply wanted to speed them up or it could be that they wanted their own report to provide some basis for AASHO's request earlier in 1943 for an authorization of one billion dollars per year for three years to begin after the close of hostilities. It could be that calling for a report was simply Congress' way of delaying decision on comprehensive post-war highway legislation.

Brady Gentry, Texas Highway Commission, President of AASHO explained the problems that AASHO was having and the reason for delay in the legislation at the annual meeting in December of 1943:

It is...a patriotic duty to prepare for peace, and, because of this conviction, your Executive Committee last March sponsored the introduction of a bill in the national Congress that would provide $1,000,000,000 yearly for highway construction during the first three years of the post-war period. Under the terms of this measure the funds would be apportioned by formula and for every $3 provided by the Federal Government the States would provide $1. Although it was our hope during the spring and summer that hearings would be held on this bill during September or October, it is a matter of regret that it was found necessary to defer them until January in order that certain very necessary preliminary work be accomplished in the meantime.

...There may be some among us who do not really believe in Federal Aid in any substantial amount, unless it is apportioned on a potential unemployment that may not, in fact, materialize. There may be those who, so believing, would make the matching provision so burdensome that the legislation would fail, because a great majority of the States could not furnish the necessary matching funds. I know, however, that there are among us a few true friends of the Federal Aid Principle, who view with some alarm the provision of this legislation, which requires the State to provide only $1 for each $3 contributed by the Federal Treasury. They are genuinely afraid that the construction and maintenance of highways may, in some manner, be taken over by the Federal Government. Under the present traffic restrictions necessarily imposed by the Government together with the greatly increased cost of maintenance, very few of the States can accumulate highway funds of sizeable amount. There can be no question but that the securing of more adequate financial provision by each State Highway Department from its own State Government is a pressing need. I rate it almost equal in importance to the passing of this highway legislation by the National Congress. It is also a "must" but it cannot be accomplished until sometime after the war is ended. The Federal Government, for the period of the war, has necessarily been given a practical monopoly on tax-raising legislation...I am convinced that we must have substantially greater funds from the Federal Government, not only in the immediate post-war period, but thereafter, if we are to build the kind of highway system that is urgently needed...If we continue indefinitely with the thoroughly inadequate highway system we have today, there is far more danger of losing control of this system, because of the people of our country coming to the conclusion that to have a good system of highways, the Federal Government must take over, than there is of our losing any substantial rights by the Federal Government assisting us in the construction of highways on the present cooperative basis and by a temporary ratio of three to one.

The most serious-at least the most stubborn-objection that has been raised to this legislation is to the formula...All of you are aware that the Executive Committee did revise the formula for this legislation to factors of one-half population, one-fourth area, and one-fourth post road mileage, instead of giving these three factors equal weight..as was done in the past. When this revised formula did not satisfy the objections of the heavily populated industrial States, I suggested to the Executive Committee, in the interest of trying to effect an agreement, a further slight revision, although I felt that the formula written into the Bill at least approached substantial fairness...

He went on to describe a joining of forces with the American Roadbuilders' to try to find a compromise but none was found:

...We then learned...that this proposal was unacceptable to one of the States...We were advised, in effect, that there would be a contest on the formula matter in Congress and that a request would be made to have funds earmarked for certain specific highway projects. This latter procedure would be a complete break with the long established policy not only of this Association but of the Congress...The situation in which we find ourselves is not only regrettable but somewhat embarrassing. Because all of us want justice done to each State, there can be no reason why anyone should object to a full-dress parade of this matter in the Congress, except for the fact that a controversy in our own ranks over a division of funds we don't have but which are greatly needed to secure can, and may, prevent us from getting them. I don't know whether such a controversy will be setting a precedent but it is certain that it cannot be helpful to our interests. Whether it does or does not affect the passage of this legislation, it can hardly result in other than a weakening of our influence. Realizing the gravity of the situation, your Executive Committee has taken this matter most seriously and has labored long and industriously to avert a division in our own group. It is with a sense of deep personal regret that I must report to you that we have not done so. Under all the circumstances, it does seem that unity should be restored and all of us should continue to hope that it will be restored.

He stressed the urgency of maintaining good relations with the Public Roads Administration and paid tribute to that organization and its leadership.

...That the present members of this Association, you who are in the audience today, will exert a profound influence on the future of highway development, I have no doubt. That we are at a crossroad that will determine whether this generation is to enjoy the economics and conveniences of an adequate, modern highway transportation system, is equally certain.

...If I were to prescribe for State Highway Departments and our Association, I would say that our greatest need is for serious, industrious and immediate planning, very boldly done...I recently sent many of you a copy of a letter from Mr. Hoffmann of Minnesota in which he stated that the real measure of appropriation for highways in the post-war period may depend almost wholly upon the availability of completely ready and adequate plans...We must have a modernization of our highway system and there must be a greater expansion of our activity into urban and secondary areas.

The above leads to speculation as to which State refused to go along and wanted Congressionally mandated projects.

The Hon. Jesse P. Wolcott, Michigan, Ranking minority Member, House Committee on Roads encouraged the States to prepare post-war plans at three levels to be ready for whatever unemployment need that would be required. He noted that this would also head off Washington planning. He also chastised them for failing to use the planning funds provided:

...We are troubled somewhat in Congress because we haven't been able as yet to find a solution of this great, absorbing post-war (highway program) problem. We haven't been able to approach a program because we don't know, you don't know, no one in the world knows, what the economic conditions are going to be following our victory.

...We are trying to fit the program which has been so ably presented to us (by AASHO) into an over-all picture and it is our responsibility to consider the over-all picture and to do everything we possibly can to paint that picture in such a manner that it will reflect American principles, it will reflect the patriotism which is bringing us to victory today...

I believe we are but starting one era and that we are in the first phases of that era, in which will be determined whether American democracy is going to prevail...

...During recent years, I think we all agree there have been some danger signals that we have had to observe. There have been many attempts by those who are not as zealous of representative democracy as you and I might be to destroy it. We have had to fight off these attacks and I think we can take peculiar pride in the fact that after 15 or 20 years of attempts to destroy the American way of life, it still prevails because of the fortitude and patriotism and the courage of the people...

...In Washington today there is a special coterie of influential men who are sincere, I believe-I don't know-in their desire to socialize America. They perhaps sincerely believe that America must be socialized in order to take its position as one of a confederation of socialized nations following this war. Otherwise, according to their contentions, America might find itself isolated...from the rest of the world commercially, politically, economically and socially. And so it is their studied plan to socialize the United States in order that we may become an affiliate in this confederation of socialized nations, possibly made up of Soviet Russia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, China and what might be left of Japan. I think they sincerely believe that unless we become a socialized nation, unless we destroy democracy, then there is a probability that the two great democracies, the United States and Great Britain, will find themselves pitted against this confederation of socialistic nations. So I give them credit for being sincere and I also give them credit for using very diverse and uncertain ways to accomplish their purpose...

...Unfortunately, the policies in respect to our own economy are controlled by this same small coterie of individuals who would socialize America, and in all of our engagements, in the consideration of our post-war program as it affects highway construction, we must constantly be on the alert against those influences which would take from you as State highway officials the jurisdiction over the construction and maintenance and use of the highways in your State.

He portrayed the highway program under the Depression NIRA program as being a precedent of a Federal centralization of authority in order to accomplish social and economic goals rather than provide for transportation. He encouraged the States to build shelves of plans for projects prioritized as "A", "B" and "C" so that depending on the size of the program required, they would be prepared and ready to go. He also expressed disappointment with how well the States were doing in utilizing the planning funds already made available to them.

General Fleming, Administrator of the Federal Works Agency in which BPR was located, also addressed the AASHO meeting:

Recently the President, by Executive Order, called upon the various departments and agencies to submit their post-war construction plans to the Bureau of the Budget, and to make frequent revisions in order to keep them up to date. The Federal Government has in prospect about seven billion dollars' worth of construction. But very little has been completely planned, with engineering surveys and actual working drawings, and much that has been planned is only partially planned. It has been estimated that of the entire seven-billion-dollar program only about six hundred million dollars' worth of it could be put into operation within the first year after the war...

He spoke at length of the difficulties of re-orienting the production machinery after the war. He stressed that it couldn't be done overnight and even though people had money to spend, it would be sometime before things could get back to peacetime productivity and, therefore, a danger of high unemployment while that process was going on.

The Hon. J.W. Robinson, Utah-Chairman, House Committee on Roads also addressed the 1943 AASHO meeting. He complimented the highway departments for holding things together under very adverse war-time circumstances:

Legislation before Congress now contemplates the expenditure by the Federal Government alone of a billion dollars a year for construction in each of the three years beginning immediately after the war.

He made note of the $10 million that was made available in the Defense Highway Act of 1941 and other funds that were made available for the preparation of plans and specifications for post-war work:

Have you these plans, specifications and construction contracts ready?

According to the September 30 tabulations of the Public Roads Administration, only slightly over half of the 1941 planning appropriations has reached a programming stage, and hardly more than a third of it has been allotted to definite projects. How far these projects have progressed in field surveys, construction drawings and the other necessary preliminaries to completion, is now being checked. But my guess is that if the war were to end before the next construction season, hardly a third of the construction potential would be in shape to begin.

...Gentlemen, a half-billion dollar construction program ready at this moment is dangerously low. An 800 million dollar program ready next spring is not enough...

...The hard fact is, gentlemen, that except in the highway field, there is no such thing in America today as a public works program ready to go. And I regret to state my fear that the highway program is not as far advanced as it should be, in view of the special need for timing construction to start quickly after the war.

He pledged himself to work for the passage of H.R. 2426 which would have provided the billion per year that AASHO asked for:

In the urban highway picture, ripples are now appearing on municipal waters that have long been undisturbed. Some of them have become sizable waves...

I have a feeling that those waves will grow larger in the coming months-that whitecaps will appear in municipalities all over America... Municipal officials will come to you asking your cooperation in their traffic problems.

I know you will do what must be done...To your past record of erecting the backbone of a highway system which now contains half of all the world's improved roads, you will add a new chapter of helping to unscramble the urban traffic congestion problem.

You will respect the city's rights to control its streets, just as the Public Roads Administration has respected the States rights to designate the Federal-aid highway system. But, working hand-in-hand with the Public Roads Administration, you will, as the Public Roads Administration does on a national scale, exercise proper supervision over the local program, to preserve the integrated network of major traffic arteries when the new urban links are welded.

The urban job must be done. If you did not cooperate in the doing of it, our cities would find ways of by-passing you, and doing the job some other way. I firmly believe that would bring about grave problems, and that the emphasis on a nationally integrated highway system which you have struggled to maintain would be destroyed.

Updated: 06/27/2017
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