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States led in making Interstate Highway System a reality.

The Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways marks its 50th Anniversary on June 29, 2006. This will be a watershed moment as the nation celebrates its past accomplishments, but it will also forecast what the future holds for this vast network of roadways.

To mark this important date, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)--which represents all 50 state transportation agencies and those of the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico--is engaged in a series of events and programs to honor the man who lends his name to the system Americans enjoy today.

While federal commitment to a system of interstate and defense highways was essential to the creation of the 1956 Interstate Highways Acts, the grand plan would have been impossible were it not for the groundwork laid by state departments of transportation. The American Association of State Highway Officials, AASHO, now called AASHTO, was founded in 1914. Over the next three decades AASHO worked with the Federal Bureau of Public Roads to foster a more professional approach to road building: agreeing on a common set of design guidelines, materials and routes.

Five years later, Eisenhower--then a US Army lieutenant colonel--led a mechanized column of military vehicles on a two-month cross country trek from Washington, DC to San Francisco. Largely following The Lincoln Highway, Eisenhower found the road system largely unpaved and unable to support motorized vehicles. The convoy destroyed 81 bridges along the way.

The journey inspired Eisenhower, whose command strength was logistics. The D-Day invasion in June of 1944 is perhaps the best example of logistical effectiveness. When forces under Eisenhower's command eventually invaded Germany, they found the Autobahn system of roadways to be to their advantage in defeating Hitler's armies. The Autobahn system was admired by US roadbuilders, who developed plans for a similar system across the country during the 1930s.

The 1919 convoy revealed poor road conditions in the US; the German Autobahn demonstrated how important roadways are to national defense. When Eisenhower became president, other good roads advocates like Bureau of Public Roads chief Thomas MacDonald would persuade Congress to pass the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which Eisenhower signed, creating the mechanism for the Interstate Highway System.

To recognize the vision and the achievement of the Interstate Highway System, AASHTO and its partners are recreating that historic convoy; this time from San Francisco to Washington, DC. The trip will depart from the terminus of the 1919 motor train--Lincoln Park--on June 16 and will arrive on June 29 where the original group left, The Ellipse, just south of the White House.

The convoy is intended to raise awareness of the importance of the highway system in people's everyday lives, as it enables nearly everyone to get to and from work, school, shopping and recreation--things many people take for granted. Taking care of those nearly 47,000 miles of interstate highways are the state transportation departments across the US, all of which are members of AASHTO.

Before it became AASHTO, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) worked hard with their respective members of congress for passage of the 1956 Act. After that, AASHO continued to work on improving the Interstate Highway System, by developing and updating the geometric design standards for the new Interstate. This work led to the Bureau of Public Roads to adopt the standards when Commissioner C.D. Curtiss accepted them on behalf of the Secretary of Commerce on July 17, 1956.

Now that the system is 50 years old, AASHTO, its member departments and its partners recognizing the 50th Anniversary are now looking toward the future of the Interstate system. When the cross-country convoy arrives in Washington, DC, on June 29, a policy conference on the future of the Interstate will be in full swing, just a few blocks away from The Ellipse.

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The conference, titled "The Interstate Highway System: Fifty Years and Looking Forward," will bring the nation's transportation stakeholders together to explore a new vision for the future of the Interstate. Sessions will explore innovative financing of the highway system so it can be effectively maintained and added to; congestion relief; Intelligent Transportation Systems; freight and container shipping; and private and public partnerships.

John Horsley is the Executive Director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, which represents the transportation departments of all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. AASHTO is based in Washington, DC.

by John Horsley

Executive Director, AASHTO
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Author:Horsley, John
Publication:Defense Transportation Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2006
Words:755
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