Dividing Lines

Is it fair to make people pay for a public service? It’s a question civic leaders put off for half a century

dividinglines

When the interstates were being built in the 1960s, it was believed that more than a million people would be displaced from their homes before the system was finished. Not all people were displaced equally.

BY GINGER HERVEY | THE NEW TERRITORY ISSUE 03

There’s a legend in the highway department. It goes like this: In 1937, Franklin Delano Roosevelt called his chief of the Bureau of Public Roads to the White House. He handed Thomas MacDonald a piece of paper, a map of the United States on which he’d drawn three lines running north to south, and three lines running east to west.

Roosevelt told MacDonald to figure out how to create a system of roads that would connect states to each other. He was envisioning an interstate highway system.

America’s states were not connected then, as they are today, by thousands of miles of nearly straight concrete. Roosevelt’s plan, which involved “self-liquidating” interstates, or toll roads, was grand and unprecedented. It would not be realized for nearly two decades, when Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 and undertook the largest civil works project in the history of the world — a project that first broke ground in St. Charles, Missouri, on Interstate 70.

When the interstate system was built, it changed American life. Today, there’s another revolution quietly taking place in the transportation industry. As self-driving cars and ‘intelligent’ roads once dreamed of in The Jetsons are now becoming more realistic, transportation departments are working to raise funds for infrastructure and get ahead of the technology.


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