February 16, 2024
I have been getting lots of windshield time this year between business travel, house hunting, relocation, and even a few days of vacation. Our fabulous Interstate Highway System makes long distance trips almost easy. It is certainly the best investment of public funds in the history of our nation. Just under a hundred years ago the American road system was barely more than a bunch of gravel wagon trails. The U.S. Army tested it by sending a convoy of vehicles from the East Coast to the West Coast in a well-documented ordeal that was only able to average 5 miles per hour. Imagine how many times your child could ask “are we there yet?” on a 5 mph trip to grandma’s! A young officer on that mission remembered the challenges well when he led planning for the Army in the days before World War II. He was later impressed by the enemy’s high-speed roadways. When he became president during the 1950s, Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed a similar system of “defense highways” and, despite opposition from a variety of interests, got the program funded. We had national highways before, of course, but the interstates changed the way we travel. They shifted freight from rail to roads; they even started the movement of jobs to previously underdeveloped areas. To be honest, the interstates also destroyed some vibrant urban centers and accelerated the move to the suburbs. Such a massive public investment helped the economy boom. Construction equipment improved along with road- and bridge-building methods. Few programs have ever had such a broad impact as building this system of roads. Indeed, Ike may have been prouder of it than his wartime accomplishments. How did the interstate affect your company? Several of my employers built new facilities to have better access to the “super slab.” Others saw major increases in business as a result of increased demand for road-building materials such as sand, gravel, concrete, and steel. Could a major infrastructure rebuilding effort boost our sector once again?