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Thread: The Interstate Highway System is 50 years old.

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    This one's for you Edd Heath's Avatar
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    The Interstate Highway System is 50 years old.

    Nice article here by TIME magazine -

    The Interstates Turn 50
    Half a century after Eisenhower first put the sprawling marvel of civic engineering into motion, our highways have radically changed the nation -- for good and bad

    By TOM CHAFFIN

    From the air, the 46,000 lunging, rolling, curving, tangled miles of America's Interstate Highway System sprawl across the continent like some outsized Rorschach pattern. These multi-laned, guard-rail-clad corridors by now seem timeless, like pre-Cambrian mountains bolted to the landscape. So it's hard to believe that America's freeway system turns 50 this summer — a chronological blip on the tectonic plates too slight for a spectrometer, but in the life of our republic, a golden anniversary.

    In truth, the system's true origins do go back at least several more years. As a young lieutenant colonel in 1919, Dwight Eisenhower volunteered to act as an observer on the U.S. Army's first motorized transcontinental convoy. But the 62-day Washington-to-San Francisco trek left him appalled. On the often unpaved, poorly maintained roads that comprised their route, trucks became stuck in mud, disappeared into clouds of dust, and slid on ice; on occasion, they even crashed through the beds of creaky wooden bridges.

    Memories of that obstacle course lingered with Eisenhower. And two decades later, as the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, he noted how easily his armies disrupted German supply-lines by bombing railroads. But he also noticed how, despite Allied pummeling, the country's Autobahn had remained passable. In the 1950s, the general-turned politician, by then elected president, resolved to build a similar system across the United States. "The old convoy," he recalled, "had started me thinking about good, two-lane highways, but Germany had made me see the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land."

    Military considerations — his perceived need for good roads to transport troops and materiel over far-flung continental distances — initially compelled Eisenhower. But, with the force of an idea whose time had arrived, the system and its eventual designers found broader inspirations — the German Autobahn, as well as the parkways built by New Yorker Robert Moses as early as the 1930s and the futuristic highway visions of Norman Bel Geddes and French Modernist Le Corbusier.

    In a fuller sense, however, it was America's 1950s economic boom that proved the Interstates' true progenitor. The Federal-Aid Highway Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by Eisenhower on June 29,1956, allocated $25 billion to pay 90% of the costs of a 41,000-mile "National System of Interstate and Defense Highways," to be completed by 1972.

    To reassure state governments nervous about the tab, Congress levied a 3% federal tax on gas and diesel fuel to pay 90% of construction costs. Congress subsequently expanded the network to include other routes and the new states of Hawaii and Alaska. And even now, ongoing fidgeting with the system — the repaving and widening of established highways and the construction of new metro commuter routes close to growing cities — suggests that old joke about New York City: "It'll be a great place if they ever finish building it."

    But America's Interstate system — the largest civil engineering project in human history — is actually substantively complete. And now that it is, we can begin to comprehend its scope and impact. After we've spread enough asphalt and concrete and acquired enough right-of-way to cover the entire surface of the state of Delaware, we can begin to comprehend how this sprawling 75 m.p.h. planet of concrete, asphalt, steel and white-line-paint has changed America — both the way we live and how we view our nation. Like some vast, caffeine-propelled external manifestation of our collective nervous system, these freeways changed everything.

    By allowing us to travel with greater speed, freedom and whim than our ancestors could ever have imagined, the Interstates changed how we experience movement through space and time. Not so long ago, when family vacations entailed days poking along in slow-moving cars on even slower roads, the journey ranked almost as high as the destination. To relieve the tedium, Dad made regular stops at places that now seem hopelessly quaint — alligator wrestling joints, tourist cabins, and dinosaur-themed miniature golf-courses.

    The Interstates reduced the older highways to ghost roads: "Let's-Stop-Here-Daddy" gave way to "We-Can-Make-Los-Angeles-By-Tomorrow-Morning." The mom-and-pop businesses that squatted just off the blacktops disappeared, replaced by the more impersonal, neon-announced franchise businesses that often sat hundreds of yards from the Interstates. These new entrepreneurs succored road-weary travelers with a dependable uniformity in food and lodging.

    Thanks to McDonald's, Holiday Inn, and Howard Johnson, one suddenly could travel coast-to-coast and eat from an unvarying menu and sleep in the same room every night. As Alphonse Karr might have mused, "The more one travels, the more one stays in the same place." Indeed, by now, the Interstates' uniform signages — emblazoned with the system's own red-white-and-blue shield icon; others proclaiming speed-limits and upcoming exits; and still others touting McDonald's, Best Western, Exxon, BP, and Wendy's — float through our subconscious like so many branded Jungian archetypes.

    Still one might fairly ask, to what degree does the system incarnate the vision of its 1950s authors? And how does it mesh with the nation's grand romance of the open road? After all, travelers from Walt Whitman to Jack Kerouac have done time on earlier American roads, portraying them variously as pathways to freedom or into a Hobbesian wilderness. And more recently, Hunter Thompson, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen and other myth-makers have tried to hustle the Interstates into that same picaresque canon.

    But is that really the way most Americans feel about these roads? Many of us, after all, use them more for daily commutes rather than for recreational trips. And let's be honest —for the millions of metro commuters who endure daily knotted freeway traffic-jams, any portrayal of the Interstates as the latest incarnation of America's classic Open Road rings false. For them —perfectly happy, thank you, to wait to get back on the road again — these highways feel about as romantic as a digital clock.

    Celebrated or cursed, the Interstates still evoke sublime feelings about the technological forces that, over five decades, have transfigured American lives. More than television, the space program, computers or any of the other defining, and once controversial, technological icons of our lifetimes, freeways continue to divide Americans. To understand how 19th-century Americans felt about technology, historians often examine individuals' attitudes toward the railroad. Freeways offer a similar litmus: Although still beloved by automobile, trucking, construction, advertising and franchising executives, the roads are excoriated by academics, artists, writers and activists for diminishing communities, landscapes, public transportation and regional distinctiveness.

    Moreover, freeway fracases over everything from neighborhood preservation to roadside billboards echo long-standing national conversations that reach back to our republic's dawn. Long before Ike's fountain pen in 1956 inscribed these red-roads into our Rand-McNally pages, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton sparred over how to balance democracy, freedom and commerce in American lives. Put another way, even as history's odometer this season rolls up the Interstates' 50th anniversary, these roads still take us on a multi-lane tour of our murkiest feelings about home and travel, the near and the distant, the here and the there.
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    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Re: The Interstate Highway System is 50 years old.

    The Interstates reduced the older highways to ghost roads: "Let's-Stop-Here-Daddy" gave way to "We-Can-Make-Los-Angeles-By-Tomorrow-Morning." The mom-and-pop businesses that squatted just off the blacktops disappeared, replaced by the more impersonal, neon-announced franchise businesses that often sat hundreds of yards from the Interstates. These new entrepreneurs succored road-weary travelers with a dependable uniformity in food and lodging.
    I hate the interstate, Americas roads rule, the highway is for time and homoginized living.

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    Hey Cubs Fans RFS62's Avatar
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    Re: The Interstate Highway System is 50 years old.

    Kerouac is dead. Long live the Red Roof Inn. Multi-tasking, you know.
    "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
    ~ Mark Twain

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    RZ Chamber of Commerce Unassisted's Avatar
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    Re: The Interstate Highway System is 50 years old.

    The interstate is for people who just want to get to Point B and don't care about what's between there and Point A. There's a lot more of those people than there used to be, and gosh, do they drive fast!

    I saw a documentary on the History Channel about what vehicle travel was like before the interstate system was proposed. That was back when major roads weren't always paved and changing a tire by the side of the road was something you had to do on a regular basis. I can understand why people of that era would look longingly toward the day when they could take a fast trip between cities on a smooth highway. But I'm also glad that there are still other options.

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    Rally Onion! Chip R's Avatar
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    Re: The Interstate Highway System is 50 years old.

    When I was on vacation in Iowa last week, I guess Ike's grandson was in the state as part of an anniversary tour.

    I don't think it's necessarily fair to say that the interstate begat the homogonized fast food restaurants, hotels and convenience stores you see off the exits. If there was no interstate, I believe these places would have popped up anyway.

    A few years ago I was going on vacation back to Iowa. I had to go to LaGrange, KY the morning I was leaving and planned on heading to Indy from Louisville. I got impatient about halfway to Indy and turned off on State Route 46 which would take me to Terre Haute and I could catch 74 from there. Boy, was that a mistake. I barely went over 50 on that road. When I finally got to Terre Haute there was a huge traffic jam on I-70 and I had to take some more back roads in Illinois to finally get to I-74. I bet that detour added at least a couple of hours on to my trip. I blame myself for not being more patient but those back roads are not as romantic as people make them out to be.
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    Yay! dabvu2498's Avatar
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    Re: The Interstate Highway System is 50 years old.

    The weekend after we graduated from college we drove from Nashville to Pensacola and decided not to get on the highway. Great fun, right?!?!?! Wrong. 13 hours later we got there. Took us 6 1/2 to get back on I-65.
    When all is said and done more is said than done.

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    Hey Cubs Fans RFS62's Avatar
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    Re: The Interstate Highway System is 50 years old.

    Wonder if Kerouac would have used GPS?
    "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
    ~ Mark Twain

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    Designated Threadkiller LincolnparkRed's Avatar
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    Re: The Interstate Highway System is 50 years old.

    Quote Originally Posted by RFS62
    Wonder if Kerouac would have used GPS?
    His "on the Road" book IMO might be one of the most overated pieces of literature ever written. I wasn't even able to finish it. I got 3/4 of the way there and decided I didn't really care what happened to him or his friends.
    Last edited by LincolnparkRed; 06-30-2006 at 02:36 PM.
    Climbing down from the bridge, but keeping the torch lit until Dusty's fate is settled

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    Re: The Interstate Highway System is 50 years old.

    Quote Originally Posted by RFS62
    Kerouac is dead. Long live the Red Roof Inn. Multi-tasking, you know.
    the chances of me working are...........REMOTE



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    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Re: The Interstate Highway System is 50 years old.

    Quote Originally Posted by dabvu2498
    The weekend after we graduated from college we drove from Nashville to Pensacola and decided not to get on the highway. Great fun, right?!?!?! Wrong. 13 hours later we got there. Took us 6 1/2 to get back on I-65.
    Time is time that's for sure, but I'd rather drive the west on the 2 laners, you can do 60 miles on those no problem, back east you have too many Burgs, but I'd still rather drive from Cincinnati to Boston without seeing a turnpike and I have several times.

    That's America, not the "flair" on the suspenders of some kid from the suburbs named "Chance" who brings me 2400 calories of grease as I watch the trucks blow by.

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    Score Early, Score Often gonelong's Avatar
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    Re: The Interstate Highway System is 50 years old.

    Quote Originally Posted by westofyou
    Time is time that's for sure, but I'd rather drive the west on the 2 laners, you can do 60 miles on those no problem, back east you have too many Burgs, but I'd still rather drive from Cincinnati to Boston without seeing a turnpike and I have several times.

    That's America, not the "flair" on the suspenders of some kid from the suburbs named "Chance" who brings me 2400 calories of grease as I watch the trucks blow by.
    I live near the 70/75 interchange, so I drive the highways a great deal. I often pull off on a state route and run though a few small burgs. Might double the drive time occasionally, but you might just discover something thats worth the drive.

    I had a nice, long, slow drive down the PCH last summer. Enjoyed it greatly. I only wish I'd have had a bit more time to stop at a few more places along the way. "Wasted" most of our time in Yosemite. Glorious place.

    GL

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    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Re: The Interstate Highway System is 50 years old.

    I had a nice, long, slow drive down the PCH last summer. Enjoyed it greatly.
    I've been itching for a trip, my wife isn't... so I might head down that way in the next week or two. Just me and my bike... I'll do the coast down and 5 or 99 back up. When in the Bay Area I try and stay off the highways and do roads like 35, 9 and 1.

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    Re: The Interstate Highway System is 50 years old.

    My dad would regal me with stories of his family, with their horse-drawn wagon, taking their produce downtown to sell before 74 was built. Needless to say, it was a positive development for them. That is/was my main route to get to UC for class and a lifesaver cause I hate the thought of taking 75 unless necessary. My preferred route to a game is take 50, if I'm in the area.


    Quote Originally Posted by LincolnparkRed
    His "on the Road" book IMO might be one of the most overated pieces of literature ever written. I was even able to finish it. I got 3/4 of the way there and decided I didn't really care what happened to him or his friends.
    Amen. I cannot even remember if I finished it. The first book that made me weary of the "classic literature" label.
    "When the Russians conquer America, they will recruit concentration camp guards from among Cardinals fans."

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    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Re: The Interstate Highway System is 50 years old.

    Quote Originally Posted by LincolnparkRed
    His "on the Road" book IMO might be one of the most overated pieces of literature ever written. I wasn't even able to finish it. I got 3/4 of the way there and decided I didn't really care what happened to him or his friends.
    Me too... I got in my car and took off west myself.

  16. #15
    Please come again pedro's Avatar
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    Re: The Interstate Highway System is 50 years old.

    One of the promises I made to myself when I moved from Atlanta to Portland was that I would stay off the highway as much as possible. Now the only time I get on the highway is if I'm leaving town.
    Get your nunchucks and the keys to your dad's car. I know where we can get a gun


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