“Together, the united
forces of our communication and transportation systems are
dynamic elements in the very name we bear -- United States.
Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate
parts." -- President Dwight D. Eisenhower, February 22, 1955
When did the idea for an interstate begin?
How was this federal concept accepted in the states?
Who is responsible for the Interstate System?
What was the first Interstate in the nation?
What is the official name of the interstate system?
On what famous list does the Interstate system appear?
What is the longest Interstate?
What is the shortest Interstate?
What is the highest Interstate route number?
What is the lowest Interstate route number?
Is there any state that does not contain Interstates?
How many people travel on the Interstate system daily?
How many bridges exist on the Interstate system?
How are interstates numbered?
When did the idea for an interstate begin? (Top)
The idea for an interstate highway system was first conceived in the 1930s. President Roosevelt backed the idea as a way of providing jobs. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1938 directed the chief of the Bureau of Public Roads (precursor to today’s Federal Highway Administration) to study the feasibility of a six-route national toll road network. The study did not recommend a national toll road system since the then-existing traffic levels would not support its cost. It further recommended a 26,000-mile non-toll “inter-regional” highway network. In high-traffic areas, it would have two lanes in the same direction and limited-access design. The recommendation essentially asked for a 1930s version of today’s Interstate system.
How was this federal concept accepted in the states? (Top)
It was not immediately embraced. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944 created a 40,000-mile “National System of Interstate Highways,” but without national importance and no increase in federal funding. Construction of the system began in August 1947, but without increased federal support, many states balked at the idea. In addition, road design standards were not always uniformly applied as construction began.
Initially, the system was to cover 41,000 miles of road, including 2,000 miles of existing toll roads. It was to be completed in 1975. As time passed it became obvious that goal would not be reached. In 1975, the system had about 35,000 miles of roadway.
Who is responsible for the Interstate System? (Top)
President Eisenhower, Senator Albert Gore Sr., Representatives George H. “Highways” Fallon and Thomas Boggs, along with Frank Turner, then chief of what is now called the Federal Highway Administration, are commonly seen as the fathers of the Interstate system. Tennessee senator and Carthage native, Gore had a major role in the political battle for the Interstate Highway System. Along with Fallon from Maryland, Gore was a key congressional player in reaching the compromise that led to the 1956 Federal-Aid Act, often called the Fallon-Gore Act. The act provided $25 billion for twelve years to fund the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. In honor of his role in the Interstate system, part of I-65 in Tennessee has been named the Albert Gore, Sr. Memorial Highway.
There is some disagreement over when the first Interstate was created. Pennsylvania, with its Turnpike, Missouri, with its Interstates 44 and 70, and Kansas with its Interstate 70, all lay claim to being the first. The first three contracts under the new program were signed in Missouri on August 2, 1956. However, all of these roads were either started before the Interstate Act was approved, or were upgrades of existing roads. The Pennsylvania Turnpike opened on October 1, 1940, and was the first limited-access, divided highway in the country.
What is the official name of the interstate system? (Top)
The original name was the “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.” In October 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed legislation changing its name to the “Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways.”
On what famous list does the Interstate system appear? (Top)
In February 1994, the American Society of Civil Engineers declared the Interstate system one of the “Seven Wonders of the United States.” Other wonders include the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. The economic impact of the Interstate system, the world's largest public works project, is incalculable. There is hardly one aspect of American society that hasn’t been affected by the Interstates.
What is the longest Interstate? (Top)
The longest Interstate is I-90, which runs from Boston to Seattle, a total of 3,081 miles. At 75 mph it would take you 41 hours of nonstop travel to cover that distance. The second longest stretch of interstate is I-80, which covers the 2,907 miles between New York City and San Francisco. Interstates 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 35, 40, 70, 75, 80, 90, 94 and 95 are all more than 1,000 miles long.
Is there any state that does not contain Interstates? (Top)
Yes. The only state without any Interstate routes is Alaska.
How many people travel on the Interstate system daily? (Top)
Interstates carry nearly 60,000 people per route-mile per day, 26 times the amount of all other roads, and 22 times the amount of rail passenger services. Over the past 40 years, that's the equivalent of a trip to the moon for every person in California, New York, Texas, and New Jersey combined.
How many bridges exist on the Interstate system? (Top)
More than 55,000 bridges have been built on the Interstate system.
There are a total of 58 one- or two-number Interstates in the continental U.S. Of those 58, 27 run primarily east west. The other 31 go primarily north south. There are three Interstates in Hawaii (H-1, H-2, and H-3).
If the first digit of a three-digit interstate route number is odd, it is a spur into a city. If it is even, it goes through or around a city.
Sources: A 1996 special issue of Public Roads, a
publication of the Federal Highway Administration, and The
Best Investment a Nation Ever Made by the American Highway
Users Alliance. Public Roads Archives http://www.tfhrc.gov/pubrds/pubrds.htm
Milestones for US Highway Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration
Click here for a time line of significant events in the history of highway transportation in America from 1892.