The interstate highway system that we now enjoy is typically ascribed as the brainchild of President Eisenhower (thus the name, the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways) and as part of national defense/readiness, but the roots of an interstate system go back as far as 1903 and Teddy Roosevelt and it was his cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was the real founder of the interstate system. FDR in his quest to put people to work, and as congress was becoming increasingly tired of the CCC and WPA and other ABC agencies, pushed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1938 through the legislature. This tasked the Bureau of Public Roads with creating a feasibility study of a toll-based road system that would entail three north-south, and three east-west super highways. The resulting report said that a toll-based highway system could not be self-supporting and it recommend a nearly 27,000-mile toll free highway system, this plan would be the basis for what became the interstate highway system. After Roosevelt’s death, Harry Truman in 1949 choses to pursue the American Housing Act as part of his “Fair Deal” and lets the highway system drop, which Eisenhower will pick up again in 1955.
Prior to the interstate highway system roads tended to be maintained by organizations or private individuals as a commercial endeavor. Revenues were generated by tolls and by the sale of land next to roads. The Lincoln Highway, the first interstate highway was an example of this and was created and maintained by the Lincoln Highway association. Highways and roads varied widely in their size, construction techniques and materials. The White Way Highway, which I-70 follows in part, ran from Chicago to Colorado Springs, and consisted of a gravel strip that A. E. Blackney and Everett Lindsay of Frankfurt were paid to paint a white stripe on every other telephone pole for 1,161 miles, for 15c/pole (http://www.barnesks.net/Hwy9.html). At the time, the White Way was the only organized highway to go through Missouri and Kansas, it ran east west from Corning to Kirwin, links Chicago with Denver, financed by the Atchison Commercial Club ( https://kswhiteway.wordpress.com/highway-history/) , a group of community leaders, who felt that it would enhance business in communities along the route. And that it did, in many towns, the White Way became the main street of the town.
Perhaps it was Eisenhower’s involvement in 1919 in the U.S. Army’s first transcontinental convoy, which took two months to drive across the U.S. to assess the readiness of America’s roads that made(https://www.transportation.gov/content/celebrating-50-years-eisenhower-interstate-highway-system) him pick up the idea of highway system and order the creation of the “Grand Plan”. The Grand Plan was a 10-year plan to improve safety, reduce traffic jams, reduce traffic-related litigation, increase economic efficiency, and provide for the national defense. This lead to the passage of the 1956 Federal Aid Highway Act which made highways uniform and provided funding through highway user taxes, federal gas and other motor vehicle related taxes. Eisenhower was insistent that the highways be “pay-as-you-go” constructed and long term financed.
On November 14th, 1956, just west of Topeka, between Valencia and Maple Hill, the first section of I-70 was the first section of interstate highway to be opened up in the nation. Finished in June of 1970, I-70 stretches 424 east-west across the state at a cost of $155.6 million (this does not include the turnpike). East from Salina was made with Portland cement and west with asphalt. This was the beginning of the 40,000 mile national Interstate highway system which is the U.S.’s largest public works project.
1903—Teddy Roosevelt, “ The faculty, the art, the habit of road building marks in a nation those solid, stable qualities which tell for permanent greatness…I say, we should have a right to demand that such a nation build good r
oads. Much more have we the right to demand it from the practical standpoint.” (TR at Odeon Hall, St. Louis, MO to the National and International Good Roads Convention, April 29,1903)
1907—Wilson v. Shaw the Supreme Court decided that the commerce Clause of the Constitution gave Congress the authority to construct interstate highways.
1910—Golden Belt Highway. Running from Kansas City to Colorado Springs it was marked by “belts” of yellow paint on telephone poles, much like trail markers today, the yellow “belts” assured travelers that they were following the right path. This is now Highway 40. (http://gearyhistory.blogspot.com/2015/04/golden-belt-highway.html)
1912—National Old Trails Road Association—formed in Kansas City from Baltimore to California, 3,096 miles long, following he Santa Fe Trail. (1926 future president Harry Truman, president of the Old Trails assoc. lead a fund raising drive for the twelve “Madonnas of the Trail” monuments to be placed one in each state)
1913—Lincoln Highway the first coast to coast highway is begun (completed in 1923) connecting New York to California
1916—Wilson’s good roads speech, “The highway is not intended, first of all, for the pleasure vehicle. It is not intended for the mere traveler.” In this campaign speech he argued that highways were needed to exploit the nation’s resources, help business: the farmer, the retailer and the wholesaler; that good road would break down provincialism and unite the nation….A network of roads which will release all the locked up riches of all countrysides….Good roads are necessary for every practical aspect of our lives –to draw neighbors together, to create a community of feeling, to create those arteries….” (American Motorist, November 1916 p. 12, “Network of Roads Will Release Says the President)
1916 Federal Aid Road Act of 1916—aka the Bankhead-Shackleford Act; First federal highway funding legislation in the U.S., it provided $75million in federal money in 50/50 matching funds, funding was for rural roads that were to be open to the public at no charge. This was to aid in commerence and Rural Mail delivery. Limited federal funding to $10,000/mile.
1917—All states had a highway agency to administer federal funds.
1921—Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921; aka the Phipps Act provided 50/50 matching funds for state highway building up to 7% of roads statewide in 11 western states.
1922—Pershing Map—General John Pershing was commissioned by the Bureau of Public Roads to draw a map which indicated which roads were most important to the U.S. in terms of National Defense. This was the first official topographical map of the U.S..
1921—Victory Highway George Stanfield of Topeka proposed a highway from New York to San Francisco honoring the WWI dead. The headquarters were in Topeka. Bronze eagles were to be placed at each county line to remember the war dead from that county. Only 6 eagles—3 in KS, 3 in Ca were placed. The one from the Shawnee county line is now at Gage park, Leavenworth county line is a the Dyke Museum on KU’s campus. Pottawatomie county eagle is at the Wamego city Park. (https://www.kansasww1.org/monuments-and-memorials-the-victory-highway-eagles/) Also known as the Smoky Hill Tail.
1922—White Way Highway is built (now K-9 highway)
1925—American Association of State Highway Officials begins planning federal highway system—east routes to be numbered in multiples of ten.
1938—FDR’s Federal Aid Highway Act feasibility study for 6 toll interstate superhighways; concludes toll based is not feasible. FDR gave Thomas MacDonald a hand drawn map with 8 superhighways for the study.
1939—Bureau of Public Roads Division report “Toll Roads and Free Roads” by Herbert Frairbank is the first formal descript of what will become the interstate highway system.
1941—FDR appoints National Interregional Highway Committee to evaluate needs of highway system and to elaborate on Fairbank’s master highway plan.
1944—NIHC’s report recommends nearly 40,000 mile rural/urban highway routes
1944—Federal Aid Highway Act calls for up 40,000 miles to connect routes, metropolitan areas, industrial centers, border points and to serve National defense and to be designated the National System of Interstate Highways.
1947—First 37,700 miles of routes for proposed and reviewed but funds are not authorized and construction is put on hold
1952—Federal Aid Highway Act of 1952 gives $25million to fund highway system
1954— $175 million annually for 1956 and 1957 authorized
1956— Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 Resolves Interstate Highway funding under President Eisenhower which spurs development, reining the concepts of Fairbanks’ Toll Roads plan.
1956—October 25th—opening day of the Kansas turnpike.
Nov. 14th, 1956—first section of interstate highway in the nation to be opened—I-70 west of Topeka. This was the largest public works project to date