Interstate system’s anniversary prompts celebration, concerns

Fifty years ago, the dreams of individuals dedicated to “connecting every state capital with every other state capital” prompted the 100,000-mile stretch of highway American motorists drive today.

The interstate highway system will turn 50 JUne 29, 2006, and amid celebrations scheduled by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association and the Federal Highway Administration for the coming year, both organizations have voiced concerns about the future strength of the roadway system.

ARTBA chairman Rich Wagman said the group’s interstate anniversary programs would also be aimed at promoting much-needed revisions of federal transportation policy and investment decisions for future surface transportation reauthorization bills.

Doug Hecox, spokesman for FHWA, said one of the system’s greatest challenges going forward will be its growth.

“There are 100,000 miles of road out there,” he said, “and this is going to have to grow in order to keep up with the increasing number of motorists. “There are currently lane widening projects from coast to coast, and we should continue down that route.”

Congress extended legislation funding federal highway and transit programs for the eighth time on June 30. The funding program, called the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, expired in September 2003. The most recent extension will last through July 19.

ARTBA and 93 members of Congress are pushing for a bill that would provide $286.5 billion for transportation system construction and maintenance through fiscal year 2009. Bush has warned he will not to sign any highway and transit bill exceeding $284 billion.

“As the interstate system approaches 50, it’s facing a ‘mid-life crisis’ that few outside the transportation construction industry and the public agencies that manage it seem to understand,” Wagman said in an ARTBA report.

“Over the past 50 years, the interstates have handled traffic volumes and vehicle weights that have dramatically exceeded the usage projections of those who developed and designed the plan in the 1940s and ’50s. That beating – combined with the system’s capacity shortcomings – has taken a great toll. There will be serious consequences for the nation if the capital investment and resource challenges that face the interstate aren’t fully understood and met.”

A Michigan public official, Horatio Earle, organized ARTBA in 1902 to advocate federal support for the construction of a “capital-connecting government highway system.” The law creating and funding the program to build the interstate system was signed in 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower.

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