When Congress passed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, it authorized what was then the largest public works program in U.S. history. The bill promised to build 41,000 miles of an ambitious road network that would significantly cross the country. In the mid-1950s, several factors changed to catalyze the actual construction of an interstate highway system. The huge population growth as well as the number of cars on the roads necessitated massive spending on road construction. In addition, the huge growth of suburbs such as Levittowns has dramatically increased the number of commuters and clogged traditional highways. The increasing consumption of the 1950s meant that goods had to be transported efficiently over longer distances. Eventually, fears of a nuclear attack during the Cold War led to the envisionment of interstate highways as a means of mass evacuation from urban centers during a nuclear strike. Part I of the report stated that the volume of transcontinental traffic was insufficient to support a toll highway network. Some roads might be self-sufficient as toll roads, but most highways in a national toll system could not. Part II, “Master Plan for the Development of Free Highways”, recommended a 43,000 km (km) toll-free interregional road network.
Interregional motorways would, as far as possible, follow existing roads (thus preserving investment in the early stages of development). More than two lanes would be open if traffic exceeds 2,000 vehicles per day, while access would be restricted if boarding would impede the freedom of movement of the main traffic flow. It took several years of struggle, but in June 1956, a new federal law on aid highways was passed. The bill authorized the construction of a 41,000-mile network of highways that would cross the country. It also provided $26 billion to pay for them. Under the terms of the law, the federal government would cover 90 percent of the cost of building the highways. The money came from an increased gas tax — now 3 cents a gallon instead of 2 — that went into a trust fund for non-diversion highways. Artistic design of a flat intersection highway on a four-lane highway, designed to standards approved in 1945. Among them was the man who would become president, Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
During World War II, Eisenhower was stationed in Germany, where he was impressed by the high-speed road network, the Reichsautobahnen. After becoming president in 1953, Eisenhower was determined to build the highways lawmakers had been talking about for years. For example, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944 authorized the construction of a 40,000-mile “National Interstate Highway System” through and between cities across the country, but offered no way to pay for it. By the end of the year, however, the Clay Committee and the Governors had generally agreed on the broad outlines of the required program. The governors had come to the conclusion that they could not get the federal government out of the gas tax. Instead, they put forward proposals that, among other things, would keep the requirements imposed on the state at roughly the current level. Based on BPR data, the Clay Committee report estimated road demand to be $101 billion. The Governors` Report indicated that the federal share of total requirements should be approximately 30 per cent, including the federal share of the costs of the intergovernmental system. BPR estimated that the cost of upgrading the planned 60,670 km would be $23 billion over 10 years.
The president`s political opponents viewed the “master plan” as “another ascent into the stratosphere of New Deal economics,” as one critic put it. Overall, however, the reaction within the road community was positive, although some observers felt that the plan lacked the vision seen in the popular “Futurama” exposition at the 1939 New York World`s Fair. The exhibition`s designer, Norman Bel Geddes, imagined the road network of the 1960s – 14-lane highways crisscrossing the country, with vehicles moving at speeds of up to 160 km/h. Radio beams in cars regulated the distance between them to ensure safety. In cities, traffic has moved on several levels – the lowest for service, such as entry into car parks, the highest for transit traffic at 80 km per hour. Although the “magic highways” featured in Futurama went beyond the technological and financial means of the time, they helped popularize the concept of interstate highways. With America about to join the war in Europe, the time had not yet come for a massive road program. However, the president was already thinking about the post-war period. He feared a resurgence of depression if American soldiers returned from the war and couldn`t find work.
A major road program could be part of the answer. On April 14, 1941, the President appointed a National Interregional Highway Committee to study the need for a limited system of national highways. Thomas H. MacDonald, Head of BPR, chaired the committee and appointed Herbert S. Fairbank, Head of the Information Division of OPI, as Secretary. Interregional Highways, written by Fairbank and published on the 14th. January 1943, refines the concepts introduced in Part II of toll roads and free roads. The new report recommended a 63,000 km interregional motorway network, designed for traffic 20 years after the date of construction.
The report went into detail about urban highways. MacDonald and Fairbank were convinced that these highways would exert a strong force on the shape of the future city. It is therefore important that the network is located in such a way as to promote “desirable urban development”. When the review of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1944 began, the road community was divided. Rival formulas of division divided the states. Urban interests fought against rural interests for priority. And the states have asked the federal government for more authority.