Postwar America: 1945 - 1960
|The Interstate Highway System||Previous|
|Digital History ID 3429|
In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower authorized the largest public works project in the history of the world. The president had been impressed by Hitler's autobahns and believed that a national system of highways was necessary to move troops and military equipment and to provide evacuation routes during national emergencies.
In 1919, it took Eisenhower 62 days to travel over mostly unpaved roads from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco. Today, the same trip takes 72 hours.
Presently, there are 46,300 miles of interstate highways, which initially cost $129 billion to build. The federal government paid 90 percent of the system's construction costs. Unlike older highways, the interstate had no intersections or traffic signs. To ensure that traffic would not have to stop, engineers had to build more than 55,000 bridges or overpasses.
The Interstate Highway System changed the nation's landscape. Instead of taking trains or buses, workers commuted by cars. Suburbs flourished, and so did suburban sprawl. Shopping centers appeared, like the Detroit shopping center, Northland, that opened with a hundred stores in 1954. At the same time, highways slashed through the hearts of the nation's cities, cutting through lower-economic class neighborhoods, dividing communities, and facilitating white-flight to the suburbs.