Golden Anniversary of the Interstate System

Coast-to-coast convoy retraces Eisenhower's 1919 trip

Becky Wickstrom
Manager of Media Affairs
APWA Washington Office

In 1919, then-Lieutenant Colonel Dwight David Eisenhower traversed the rugged American landscape from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco as part of the First Transcontinental Motor Train. The 62-day journey, wrought with narrow and sometimes non-existent roadways, crumbling bridges and impassable terrain, impressed upon Eisenhower the need for a national system of interconnected roadways. Later as President, Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956.

June 29, 2006, marked the 50th anniversary of the 1956 bill that changed the face of America by creating the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. A commemorative convoy followed the 1919 cross-country route taken by Eisenhower (Ike), beginning in San Francisco and arriving in Washington, D.C., on June 29 for a celebratory event. APWA President Bob Freudenthal was on hand to join the celebration of what has been heralded as one of the greatest public works projects in human history.

"Fifty years ago today, Ike signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, a landmark law that gave birth to his dream: the Interstate," said then-U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta. "This more than any other law has worked to bring Americans together."

Mineta was joined by his predecessor, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Don Young (R-Alaska), Ranking Member James Oberstar (D-Minn.) as well as House Highways, Transit and Pipelines Subcommittee Chair Thomas Petri (R-Wisc.). With nostalgia and gratitude for the vision and foresight of Eisenhower and others who conceived the Interstate system, the group celebrated current achievements and looked to the future.

According to former Secretary Slater, "Today we celebrate the vision, ingenuity and strength of character that made the Interstate possible. [It] is more than concrete, pavement and steel—it unites the country and is a symbol of our freedom."

Rep. Petri called for investment in the future of the Interstate system. "We need to invest in the Interstate for the next generation as the last generation invested in us," he said.

Becky Wickstrom can be reached at (202) 218-6736 or bwickstrom@apwa.net.