Featuring developments in Federal highway policies, programs, and research and technology.
|This magazine is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information.|
|Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 63· No. 6 > Vol. I, No. 1 - The First Issue of Public Roads, May 1918|
Vol. I, No. 1 - The First Issue of Public Roads, May 1918
by Richard F. Weingroff
If you want to know about our times, go to the magazine section of your local bookstore. Here, arrayed for your pleasure, is a snapshot of our world at this time. There's news of today, of course, provided on a weekly basis by publishers of distinguished news journals and dubious tabloids. But whatever interests today's men, women, and children, here it is. Cars, Hollywood, pets, holiday getaways, computers, cross-stitch, book reviews, baby names, soap operas, crossword puzzles, photography, unidentified flying objects, fashion, humor, cigars, tattoos, and even history. You name it. The magazine section has it - politically correct and incorrect, illustrated and unillustrated. A picture of our time in all its consistent inconsistency.
Similarly, Volume I, Number 1 of Public Roads (May 1918), issued by the Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering (OPRRE), gives us a window into the concerns of its time. In some ways, those concerns are unique to the era. But in other ways, transportation officials of today are still trying to find the answers.
Looking Down the Salmon River Canyon
The cover was dominated by a picture of a dirt trail in the Salmon River Canyon of Idaho. The caption said, "Looking down Salmon River canyon on an Idaho Federal Aid project." Two men on horses are the only traffic in sight along the trail, which geography made the only north-south link in the state.
As the caption, if not the picture, suggests, OPRRE would use Public Roads to promote the federal-aid highway program, launched on July 11, 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916. Members of Congress attended the ceremony along with representatives of the American Automobile Association, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO), and farm organizations. Hopes were high for the federal-state partnership established that day.
The president, an avid motorist, told his guests, "I take a great deal of pleasure in signing this bill ... particularly because it tends to thread the various parts of the country together and assist the farmer in his intercourse with others."
A contemporary comment in Southern Good Roads magazine reflects the highway community's reaction to the new program: "The bill is as big as the great country it represents and as broad as the humanity it would serve."
However, some were more cynical. The Boston Globe said, "[The highway bill] is expected to build many miles of fine road in the South and West, where the states have neglected the work and where votes frequently grow by the roadside."
OPRRE would have to prove which viewpoint was correct.
First, however, the United States entered the Great War (now known as World War I) in April 1917. Until the war ended in November 1918, the federal-aid highway program moved in slow motion. Materials, transportation facilities, and workers were reserved for the war effort. Roads would prove their military value on the battlefields of France, but in the United States, heavy use by vehicles serving the war effort mainly proved that America's poorly constructed roads could not take the pounding. Overburdened railroads yielded freight to the growing trucking industry, which added to the loadings undermining the thin or nonexistent road surfaces of the day.
The new OPRRE magazine would prepare the way for peacetime road-building, but a notice on the inside front cover indicated that for now "the necessarily limited edition," published in wartime, would be provided free to state and county officials engaged in highway engineering, to newspapers and periodicals on an exchange basis, and to members of both houses of Congress. All others could receive Public Roads by sending 15 cents per issue to the Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.
On page 3, OPRRE Director Logan Waller Page welcomed readers to Public Roads.
"With this issue of Public Roads the Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering inaugurates the publication of a periodical devoted to better highways in the states of the Union and dedicated to those, both in official and private life, who are concerned in developing means of better rural communication, in facilitating the marketing of the crops of the nation, and in aiding in the solution of the daily more perplexing traffic problem."
Page, who served as director from 1905 until his death in December 1918, was a scientist, and he had a prickly personality that left him impatient with those who approached road-building from a nonscientific perspective. The magazine, he said, would encourage "a standardization of effort in road construction and maintenance" and foster "the desire to advance to as near perfection as possible the science of road-building." These were favorite themes for Page, as if road construction could be standardized like Henry Ford's assembly line to produce a uniform product. In short, he wanted engineers to take over road-building from the farmers and county officials who had built roads by tradition not knowledge.
The magazine, he added, would promote "a manful disposition to give and take constructive criticism." But those who knew Page understood that he meant to dish out the criticism. He didn't care to receive any.
The Office Roll of Honor
On page 4, Public Roads listed all OPRRE employees who were in military service. The introduction noted that a service flag on the front of the OPRRE building was decorated with 52 stars, one for each employee who had entered the service, and every one "offered his life to his country. Not one was called in the draft."
The 52 included some who were well known in their time, such as senior highway engineer Charles H. Moorefield, one of OPRRE's pavement experts, and many who would make their mark in later years. "H.S. Fairbank," a highway engineer, was listed as a first lieutenant in the Ordnance Corps and based in Edgewood, Md. Fairbank, who became the father of highway planning in the 1930s, would establish the philosophical and statistical underpinnings for the Interstate Highway System before he retired in the 1950s. He is honored in the name of FHWA's research facility, the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center, formerly known as the Fairbank Research Station.
5 Million Motor Cars
As if to say, "Here's the problem," Public Roads' first article was titled, "Five Million Motor Cars on Roads of the United States." The article by highway engineer Andrew F. Anderson reported that 4,983,340 motor cars, including commercial vehicles, and 257,522 motorcycles were registered in 1917. In fact, the United States had an estimated 85 percent of the world's motor cars.
The registration leaders among the states were: Ohio (346,772 automobiles), Illinois (340,292 automobiles), New York (338,682 automobiles), California (306,916 automobiles), and Pennsylvania (306,001 automobiles). At the bottom of the rankings, Nevada had only 6,885 registered automobiles in 1917.
The United States' total represented a 44-percent increase over 1916, an increase that was approximately the same as in each of the previous five years.
"There is as yet no indication that ... the curve for motor cars ... is approaching a maximum or has even reached the saturation point." In that simple statement, Mr. Anderson identified the problem no highway engineer, no highway planner, no transit advocate, no visionary in the 20th century would solve - namely, how to stop the growth in automobile usage long enough for our transportation network to catch up. Whether the saturation point will be reached in the 21st century remains to be seen.
Motor vehicle registration fees totaled $37.5 million. Nearly 93 percent of this amount was applied directly to the improvement or maintenance of the public roads in 47 states. Much of the revenue was under the direct control of the state highway departments, reflecting a growing trend in road financing.
Clearing Roads for Army Transport
When the war began, railroads were the dominant mode of interstate transportation in the United States. Trucking was primarily a local service, unable to transport goods efficiently over the poor interstate roads of the day. Even trucks bound for the American Expeditionary Force in France had to be carried by rail to Atlantic ports.
With the railroads jammed beyond capacity, OPRRE joined with the U.S. Army, the Ohio Highway Department, and the Lincoln Highway Association to see if the trucks could be driven from assembly plants in Toledo and Akron to the coast, thus freeing railroad cars for other uses. The first truck convoy left Toledo in December 1917 during one of the most severe winters in recent years. The trip, mainly on the Lincoln Highway, took three weeks, but 29 of the 30 trucks reached the port of Baltimore on Jan. 3, 1918.
The unsung heroes of the story were the men and mules of the Pennsylvania Highway Department's (PHD) maintenance crews. They kept the convoy moving across the mountainous terrain of western Pennsylvania (basically on the road that became U.S. 30 from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg). In "Clearing Roads for Army Transport," PHD Deputy Commissioner George H. Biles explained how his forces mobilized for the challenge by assembling seven motor trucks and plows, 22 road machines, 20 drags, 105 teams (mules), three tractors, and 200 men.
First, Biles explained, an elaborate network was established to convey information from the Weather Bureau in Pittsburgh to crews along the road. Crews and equipment were stationed in the larger towns, but a patrol system of 34 men traveled the road continuously to monitor conditions and make immediate repairs. Information was conveyed throughout the network by telephone and telegraph.
The first blizzard began on Dec. 7, leaving drifts averaging one to two meters in depth over the entire route. Workers sprang into action, using teams and drags to break a track through the drifts.
"This was followed by road machines, or trucks, with the plow attachments, and shovelers. Turnouts were made along the line, and thereafter, the road was widened out to a width of between 14 to 16 feet [four to five meters], depending upon the location."
At times, crews had to work day and night shifts to keep the roads passable. But, as Biles noted, "After the organization had been perfected, each succeeding storm was handled with increased celerity and efficiency."
With the success of this main military truck route, others were designated in Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia to accommodate the demand. Eventually, 30,000 trucks would travel by road to the coast, each loaded with three tons or more of spare parts and munitions. The convoys freed 17,250 railroad cars for other duty, but took a terrible toll on the roads.
Maintenance Is Rhode Island's Big Problem
The heart of the first issue of Public Roads was a series of articles about road construction in the states. First up, Rhode Island.
Chief Engineer Irwin W. Patterson of Rhode Island's State Board of Public Roads wrote that the state paid the entire cost of building and maintaining roads on the state system of main roads. Construction funds came from bond issues, while motor vehicle registration fees paid for the maintenance of state roads.
The main problem was that "the financing of maintenance and reconstruction has not kept pace with the financing of new construction and in consequence we are confronted by the fact that a great many of our earlier built roads are not in condition adequately to withstand the travel passing over them today."
Rhode Island had built pavement surfaces of water-bound macadam, bituminous macadam, and bituminous concrete. Water-bound macadam had been used exclusively at first, but this technique was abandoned after 1913, primarily because "of the absence of good road-building stone in many sections" of the state. "Until motor travel became heavy, much of the road built of this inferior rock gave very good satisfaction, but of late years the task of maintaining these roads is almost hopeless."
Between 1906 and 1913, the state board had used bituminous concrete on 50 kilometers of state road. The board's experiments with different mixes and material "occasionally proved of little value and were the direct cause of failure in several instances." Overall, however, these roads were "still taking care of the travel which passes over them in a very satisfactory manner."
In closing, Patterson reported that the method of appropriating road funds in Rhode Island was unsatisfactory. The state legislature generally appropriated funds in April or May each year, imposing a hardship on the board "by seriously limiting the time available for preliminary work." (Because of similar uncertainty under the federal-aid highway program, Congress provided "contract authority" in the Post Office Appropriations Act for 1923, approved June 19, 1922. This enabled the state highway agencies to advance multiyear federal-aid projects with the knowledge that the full sum authorized in multiyear bills could be obligated before an annual appropriations act was approved. Contract authority remains a key element in the federal-aid highway program today.)
Status of Highway Work in Wisconsin
The next article was by Arthur R. Hirst, Wisconsin's state highway engineer. (Later in 1918, Hirst would become the fourth president of AASHO.) Hirst described the progress of highway development in Wisconsin.
As in other states, Wisconsin focused on the selection and improvement of a state trunk highway system. Under state law, the system could not exceed 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) and must connect all county seats and cities with a population of 5,000 or more. All construction with state and federal-aid funding was limited to the trunk highway system, but the county in which construction was done was required to provide an amount equal to one-half of the sum of the joint state and federal allotments (i.e., each level of government would pay one-third of the total cost). The state's share would come from automobile license fees.
In selecting projects, Wisconsin gave priority to "the worst portions of important roads where there is but little prospect of securing the improvement through local initiative." In this way, projects totaling 325 miles (523 kilometers) were underway or planned at a cost of $2 million. Most of the mileage would retain earth surfaces, but projects included gravel (for 112 kilometers), stone macadam (32 kilometers), and concrete or brick pavements (72 kilometers).
Hirst also discussed Wisconsin's pioneering work in marking the state's trunk highway system. Because highway numbering and marking are so common today, Hirst's description of the state law may seem less remarkable than it was in 1918. The highways would be numbered with the same numbers shown on state maps and on standardized signs placed along the trunk highways. The state's triangular "State Trunk Highway" signs and numbering plan were models for other states and for the federal and state highway officials who created the U.S. highway numbering plan in 1925.
Roads Pierce Alaskan Wilderness
By contrast, consider the task facing the Board of Road Commissioners for Alaska, a body authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1905 and made up of three Army officials. Capt. W.H. Baugh, president of the board, summarized the problem, using politically correct terms for the time and not mentioning the native population:
"There presented itself a great wilderness (ten times the area of the state of Wisconsin) untracked for the most part by the foot of the white man, broken and rugged in many parts, heavily timbered and with a dense undergrowth in the coastal belt, underlaid throughout most of the valleys of the interior with permanent frost to a great depth protected by a thick blanket of moss, with the whole area buried under snow for many months of the year, and in summer intersected by numerous deep, swift, and changing streams fed by melting glaciers and snows of the mountain."
When the board began its work, the territory had less than a dozen miles of wagon road, plus a few hundred miles of pioneer trails, mostly constructed by the War Department. However, under the presidency of Gen. W.P. Richardson from 1905 to December 1917, the board constructed 980 miles (1,577 kilometers) of wagon road, 623 miles (1,002 kilometers) of sled road, and 2,291 miles (3,687 kilometers) of trail at a cost of $3.9 million, of which the federal share was $2.3 million.
Michigan Touches High Point in Construction
Another legend in the highway field, State Highway Commissioner Frank F. Rogers, reported on the status of highway construction in Michigan. Rogers laid out Michigan's original state highway network, was a founding member of AASHO in December 1914, and would serve a year as its president (1924-25). In 1925, as a member of the Joint Board on Interstate Highways, which created the U.S. numbered system, Rogers doodled the initial sketch of what would be adopted as the U.S. numbered shield.
Rogers traced the history of modern road development in Michigan beginning with the state reward law that went into effect on July 1, 1905. The law created the state highway department to pay rewards of $250 to $1,000 per mile to local governments that improved roads to state specifications. The amount varied depending on the road's surface (from dirt to types of pavement) and width.
The 1913 trunk-line highway act authorized a 5,000-mile state trunk system. In addition, the law provided that the state would build all bridges of more than 30-feet (9-meter) clear span on the trunk lines, provided local authorities built three or more miles (five or more kilometers) of road, including approaches. In all, the state constructed 76 bridges and repaired 14 structures at a cost of $562,830.45.
Under the state reward law, Michigan had enjoyed its most productive year of road-building in the fiscal year ending June 30, 1917. More than 1,050 miles (1,700 kilometers) of road was built with the state rewards totaling $1,241,306. Although Rogers knew that the progress would be slower in 1918 because of wartime conditions, he reported that with the addition of federal-aid funds, "it is expected that a few more years will see these main roads practically completed."
South Carolina Will Continue Construction
South Carolina was one of the states that did not have a state highway commission when the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 was signed. The fact that 15 states had either no state highway authority or a weak one troubled Page because he knew that in the absence of state involvement, funds were squandered by local officials who knew nothing about scientific road-building. The 1916 act, therefore, provided that federal-aid could be provided only to states that had a state highway authority capable of carrying out the provisions of the new program. This requirement prompted states that could not meet the statutory requirement to establish state highway commissions or to strengthen existing commissions in order to receive federal-aid.
In February 1917, the State Highway Commission was created to direct the highway department, which consisted of an engineering division and an automobile licensing and registration division. The state retained 20 percent of licensing and registration fees, and 80 percent was returned to the counties from which they were collected for road and bridge projects.
C.O. Hearon, a member of the State Highway Commission, gave credit to OPRRE for helping the state establish the engineering division, including the preparation of needed forms and blanks, specifications, and standards for road and bridge construction. He stated that the work of the commission was hampered by the absence of 13 commission members who were "now serving their country in the present crisis."
The first task of the department was to identify a system of state roads that would "facilitate communication between the important market centers and various county seats, and at the same time afford through lines of communication between adjoining states." Previously, little work had been accomplished on the main roads, except "by a few counties with bond issues or special taxes, each working according to its own plans without respect in most cases to a connected state system."
The state would work with the counties to build the system with the help of federal aid. However, a major concern for the state was that several large bridges would have to be constructed over the state's main rivers. The counties could not afford to pay for the bridges. The State Highway Commission, therefore, had requested legislation that would direct 50 percent of the automobile license fees to a state bridge fund for construction of these bridges under state supervision.
Eighteen Months of Federal Aid
Public Roads continued with a one-page summary of the progress of federal-aid projects and a seven-page table listing every federal-aid project submitted as of March 1, 1918. "A total of 383 project statements [were] submitted, of which 265 have been approved, 6 disapproved, 3 canceled, and 4 withdrawn. Plans, specifications, and estimates have been approved [for] 86 [projects]. The total mileage covered by these projects was 4,453.66 miles [7,167.28 kilometers], and the total estimated cost [was] $28,164,672.77, of which the states asked the federal government to assume the payment of $11,129,815.69."
The following states were listed as leaders in the federal-aid program:
One point the summary did not make is that few projects had actually been constructed by March 1918. Several factors were at work. Some projects, including three of California's first five projects, had been disapproved. The war made the construction stage of any road project a logistic nightmare partly because the shipment of material by railroad was nearly impossible. New state highway agencies and agencies with new powers to carry out the federal-aid program were not yet ready for the work.
The seven pages of project listings also show that in this era, the states were pursuing a variety of pavement surfaces to satisfy the 1916 act's requirement that projects "be substantial in character." Although many proposals involved concrete or bituminous asphalt, more involved such surfaces as brick, chert, earth, gravel, macadam, sand-clay, topsoil, cementitious gravel, graded and drained earth, and stone bottom with gravel top, all of which would eventually be found inadequate for the automobile travel that would use the roads.
Coverage of federal-aid projects continued in Public Roads with a series of short articles about activities in Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, and Vermont.
Federal-Aid Act Interpretations
Following enactment of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916, Logan Page had worked with the Agriculture Department's solicitor to draft tentative regulations for the new program. Page then invited state highway officials to Washington to review the draft. On Aug. 16, 1916, AASHO members representing 35 states met with Page, and AASHO President Henry G. Shirley provided AASHO's comments for discussion.
The regulation was completed and released on Sept. 1, with most of AASHO's suggestions adopted, but even with AASHO cooperation in the preparation of the regulation, OPRRE found that "questions arose constantly which involve interpretations of the act and decisions as to policy."
Over the next four pages of Public Roads, OPRRE shared its responses to many of the questions. For example, some states wanted to know the point at which the federal government incurred an "expenditure." This was important because it could affect how long funds would remain available to the state highway agency. Under Section 3 of the act, funds apportioned to a state remained available for expenditure for four years (the year authorized, plus three years). A federal expenditure, the OPRRE concluded, occurred when the Secretary of Agriculture executes the project agreement, which approves the project plans, specifications, and estimates and which sets aside the allotted funds in the U.S. Treasury. At that point, the government is obligated to pay the amount of the funds set aside, and the funds would not lapse even if four years passed.
Saving Fuel in Highway Work
Coal was used extensively in highway construction. It provided steam for quarry plants, to drive road rollers, and to power municipal paving plants, and it was used in the manufacture and use of bituminous materials.
With a coal shortage created by the war, George E. Ladd, OPRRE's economic geologist, offered tips on how "every man in charge of a coal-consuming steam-powered unit used for quarrying, stone crushing, and road construction [could] not only do his 'bit,' but his best to cut down the waste of coal."
Ladd summarized his tips by stating that coal use can be reduced "by eliminating steam leaks, by keeping the boiler and furnace in the best possible condition, and by proper attention to 'firing' and draft regulation." He followed with two pages of ideas to help the "fireman" reduce waste.
State Highway Departments and Labor
To help highway officials deal with the war-related labor shortages, the final series of articles in Public Roads contained the views of State Highway Commissioner C.J. Bennett of Connecticut, Chief Engineer Patterson of Rhode Island, and State Highway Commissioner S.B. Bates of Vermont.
Connecticut had found that allowing contractors to secure labor resulted in unsatisfactory bids for construction on a unit basis. Therefore, contracts could best be awarded on the basis of cost plus a fixed profit or cost plus a percentage. "Given reasonable department officials, honest and competent contractors, this method of carrying on highway construction at this particular time should give good satisfaction."
Given the labor shortages, two other labor sources should be considered: convicts and "interned alien enemies." The use of convicts had proven to be successful, especially if the convicts were paid a reasonable amount for their services, Bennett explained. He added that they should be treated "not as convicts but as men." Although interned aliens were few, the number might increase during the war. Whether using convicts or interned alien enemies, precautions to prevent escape were needed.
Neither Rhode Island nor Vermont had experienced serious labor problems. Nevertheless, the Rhode Island General Assembly had passed legislation allowing the use of convict labor. Many convicts employed in road work "were unused to hard manual labor and had never had experience in road work," thus reducing efficiency for the first two or three weeks, after which efficiency increased gradually.
The results varied in Rhode Island. One road built by convict labor was first class, while another road built by a different convict labor camp was disappointing. "Differences in housing facilities, in the personalities of the guards [watching] over the convicts, in the capabilities and energy of the camp cooks, and in the character of the prisoners themselves were reasons, to our minds, for such a difference in the results secured." Still, Bennett was convinced the state could receive excellent results with convict labor, while the convicts would receive "physical and moral benefits."
In Vermont, highway improvements had been limited to relatively small projects, with the number of laborers rarely exceeding 20 men. Moreover, scheduling work during the times that would least interfere with agricultural work helped reduce labor problems. Still, with the state's farms experiencing labor shortages due to enlistment in the Army, the state was considering the use of convicts. Bates' short article concluded, "This plan is receiving careful consideration at the present time."
Page 44 of Public Roads listed seven "Coming Publications" of OPRRE. The publications were about stone aggregates, highway cost-keeping, specifications for bituminous road materials, production of crushed stone, gravel roads, earth and sand-clay roads, and physical tests of road-building rock.
The following page listed OPRRE publications available for free distribution while supplies lasted. The publications included annual reports, OPRRE bulletins and circulars, farmers' bulletins, and reprints from journals and the Agriculture Department's yearbook.
The City's Part in the Farm Labor Problem
In Public Roads' closing article, Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Clarence Ousley encouraged city workers to volunteer to help farmers, particularly during harvesting season. As several previous articles made clear, labor shortages were hurting many sectors of the economy, not just road-building. Fortunately, as Ousley pointed out, "In towns and villages throughout the country, from 30 to 40 percent of the persons engaged in various lines of industries were born and brought up on farms." Thus, a supply of volunteer labor was readily available.
Although the article did not address the issue of rural flight to the cities, this issue was an important concern of the times. From the earliest days of the Good Roads Movement in the 1880s and 1890s, improved roads were seen as a way of making farm life more attractive by mitigating the isolation of most farms. A month after signing the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916, President Wilson said that the act would "promote a fuller and more attractive rural life." Indeed, it did, but not enough to reverse the shift of population to the city.
Volume I, Number 1 of Public Roads reveals the fault lines of a new program - the federal-aid highway program - that had not yet taken shape. Labor and material shortages during World War I not only compounded the problems facing road builders at all levels of government, but they also masked the problems that would plague the federal-aid highway program when peace returned:
The problems quickly became manifest after the war and prompted calls for an overhauling of the program and even for its elimination.
The end to the controversies would occur following passage of the Federal Highway Act of 1921, which restricted federal-aid highway funding to a system comprising no more than 7 percent of each state's roads with three-sevenths of the system consisting of roads classified as "interstate in character." (For additional information, see the series of articles by Richard F. Weingroff in Public Roads, Summer 1996.)
Equally important was the appointment of Logan Page's successor in 1919, Thomas H. MacDonald, chief engineer of the Iowa State Highway Commission. Unlike the impatient scientist Page, MacDonald was a consensus builder who saw the state highway departments and AASHO as allies in the great and important enterprise he would lead until his retirement in 1953.
Under the new mandate of 1921, progress was rapid. By 1925, 46,486 miles (75,000 kilometers) or more than one-quarter of the approved federal-aid system had been brought up to reasonable travel standards.
But that was in the future. In May 1918, OPRRE could include only a few articles in Volume I, Number 1 about projects under construction because only a few had gone beyond the "paper" stage. Instead, the articles reflect the pent up demand for projects that would have to wait until war's end. Still, Page could assure readers that OPRRE would proceed with one thought in mind: "[A] determined and united disposition to bring to road betterment that which is best in and for this generation, that which, in this period in our history, will make for the greatest strength of our nation."
Richard F. Weingroff is an information liaison specialist in the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Infrastructure.
Page Owner: Office of Corporate Research, Technology, and Innovation Management
Scheduled Update: Archive - No Update
Technical Issues: TFHRC.WebMaster@dot.gov