America’s highway system is one of the most intricate transit corridors in the world. What started as dirt roads for horses has morphed into multi-lane superhighways, capable of supporting tons of weight and excessive traffic. American’s love of cars and the need for mass transport of goods, brought the American highway system into being. Today millions of private and commercial drivers rely upon these roads to get them and the goods they transport where they need to go.
The Yellowstone Trail
- The Yellowstone Trail is known as “America’s Oldest Organized Highway.”
- Development of the Yellowstone Trail began in October of 1912 in Lemmon, South Dakota.
- It predates the Lincoln Highway by one year, but wasn’t transcontinental until 1920.
- It originally stretched from Boston, Massachusetts to Seattle, Washington.
- Highways travelers called this stretch of land “A Good Road from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound.”
- Sadly the trail is all but gone today, with the exception of a marker in Hettinger, South Dakota.
- The dirt road was never equipped to be considered a trucking route.
The Lincoln Highway
- The Lincoln Highway is America’s first official coast-to-coast highway.
- This highway was conceived by Carl Graham Fisher in 1912.
- Fisher also founded the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
- The Lincoln Highway was primarily built using private funding from automobile manufacturers.
- Some cities funded the project as well, and paved the roads to attract tourism.
- Drivers also paved the highway by paying $5 a year to be members of the Lincoln Highway Association.
- Despite this funding, much of the road remained unpaved by 1915, and drivers traveled through the dirt and mud to get to San Francisco.
- The federal government took over the American highway system in 1925, and split the Lincoln Highway into four different routes.
- The Lincoln Highway is now part of U.S. 1, which travels from New York to Philadelphia; U.S. 30, which extends to Wyoming; U.S. 40 and U.S. 50, which completes the route to San Francisco.
- Truckers use these routes daily to transport their goods.
Historic Route 1
- Historic Route 1 was designated as such in 1926 by the federal government.
- Although not officially dubbed Route 1 until 1926, a portion of the route between Baltimore and Washington DC was named “State Road No. 1” in 1908.
- It was also previously known as the Atlantic Highway, as much of the route used this existing roadway.
- This initial part of the Lincoln Highway stretches 2,450 miles from Fort Kent, Maine to Key West, Florida.
- This route takes travelers through both major cities, such as Boston and Washington D.C., and rural areas, particularly through North and South Carolina.
- Florida replaced 37 bridges on U.S. Route 1 in 1982 to address traffic issues and provide wider bridge spans.
- Historic Route 1 provides a critical thoroughfare for truck drivers hauling loads up and down the East Coast.
Historic Route 66
- U.S. Route 66 was designated on November 11, 1926.
- Along with Route 1, it was one of the first U.S. highways officially declared a part America’s highway system; it was officially removed from America’s highway system on June 27, 1985.
- Signage for Route 66 was erected in 1927.
- The original route ran from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California for a total of 2,448 miles.
- Route 66 is also known as “Will Rogers Highway,” “Main Street of America” and the “Mother Road,” and has been embraced by popular culture in both music and television.
- Route 66 was primary migration path for Americans seeking a new life in the West; many used the route to migrate away from the 1930’s Dust Bowl phenomenon.
- During its early years, Route 66 became a source of income for entrepreneurs who set up businesses along the route to aid weary travelers.
- Drivers still travel the historic route today, which takes travelers through eclectic places such as Roswell, New Mexico.
- Truck drivers might not drive “Route 66” anymore, but they do transport goods across the highway systems that have replaced the historic road, including I-40.
Creating America’s Interstate System
- Initial pressure for an American transcontinental highway system began in the late 1930s.
- President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt that building highways and toll roads would give unemployed Americans work.
- Congress explored this idea through the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1938, which studied the feasibility of toll roads and free roads throughout the U.S.
- World War II became a more pressing matter than America’s highway system, and plans were shelved or left to the individual states to construct and maintain highways with some federal aid.
- President Dwight D. Eisenhower took office in January 1953, and understood the advantages an interstate highway system presented based on his military time in Germany during the war.
- Congress, with support by President Eisenhower, enacted the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1954, which began construction and maintenance of the federal highway system we know today.
America’s First Interstate Highway
- Three states stake their claim as beginning construction on the nation’s first official interstate highway.
- Missouri, Kansas and Pennsylvania maintain to this day that their initial construction on highways were the first of Eisenhower’s plans.
- Missouri’s stake to the claim was the portion of U.S. Route 66, now I-44, which was being built through Laclede County.
- Kansas claims a two-lane section of U.S. 40, also I-70, was first in Topeka.
- The Pennsylvania Turnpike is Pennsylvania’s claim to building the first U.S. Interstate Highway.
Highway Changes Through the Years
- Official routes and highways have changed significantly since the early 20th century.
- As of 1925, there were more than 250 highways in the U.S.
- Many of these original U.S. routes were replaced by state or interstate routes.
- These replacements were facilitated by the Interstate Highway Act of 1956.
U.S. Highway System Geography
- The geography of the U.S. highway system is complex.
- 1.1 percent of America’s public road mileage is attributed to America’s Interstate highway system.
- These highways carry 24 percent of U.S. travel.
- Much of this travel is commercial, proving these roads remain critical to the trucking industry.
- The U.S. interstate highway system celebrated its 55th birthday on June 29, 2011.