At 60, the American highway system in the United States is showing signs of age



Sixty years ago today, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal Highway Act of 1956. It marked the birth of the interstate highway system, now a 47,000 mile network designed to ease congested roads and crumbling in post-war America.

At the time, it was sold as one of the most ambitious public works projects of all time, but six decades later, many highways are overcrowded and under-maintained. Here Now‘s Jeremy Hobson talks with William Wilkins of the Road Information Program.

Interview Highlights: William Wilkins

On the original vision of the interstate system in the 1950s

“Maybe it started when Lt. Dwight D. Eisenhower made a convoy trip from Washington DC to San Francisco in 1919. And that trip lasted 62 days. And I just looked at MapQuest yesterday to see what was going on. ‘It would take to drive today, and that’s about 45 hours, so he strongly supported its construction to improve road safety, reduce travel times and improve the country’s economic productivity.

President Eisenhower also saw what the highway did for Germany during World War II. And so when he signed this law in 1956, it was actually called the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate Highways and Defense, so it would play a defensive role for us as well if there was. an attack on the United States. “

On whether interstate planners expected such growth in the number of vehicle owners

“I don’t think so. The world has changed a lot since that vision in 1956. And our population has gone from 91% from about 168 million to 321 million today, so it’s pretty hard to be able to project that kind of thing. growth.”

On the state of financing for the maintenance of interstate highways

“The current backlog of needed improvements is approximately $ 189 billion. Fifty-nine billion dollars is needed to improve pavement conditions, 30 billion dollars to improve bridges and 100 billion more for the necessary expansion of the system. And this is due in large part to the fact that the fuel tax is not up to the necessary repairs. It was last increased in 1983, and is 18.4 cents. When the Interstate Act was passed it was about a three cent gas tax increase, and if you had indexed that to inflation it would be around 26 cents today, so we don’t even let our fuel tax keep up with necessary repairs. “

Why there seem to be more tolls on the east coast than in other parts of the country

“Los Angeles was famous for coining the term“ freeway. ”Here on the East Coast, some of the freeways that entered the interstate system were already toll roads, like the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the New York Thorough way. I think you are going to see more tolls in the future with the gasoline tax not being lifted because that is one way to improve the system, and I think you will find that many toll roads are in. done in better condition because they raise enough money to make the necessary repairs and improvements. “

On the prospect of making more highways underground

“This is probably an ideal route. But at the moment, we are not spending enough to maintain the system that we have until there is some form of fuel tax or some other form of sustainable financing for it. the federal highways trust fund, I think we’re going to have a hard time keeping the system as it is today. “


William Wilkins, executive director of the National Road Information Program (TRIP), a transport research group. The organization tweets @TRIP_Inc.


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