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Funding the Interstate Highway System

The Interstate Highway System is a major component of the economy through facilitating the movement of goods and people as well as an important source of jobs in its maintenance and extenstion.

Having just completed a road trip to Seattle in only four days, I can honestly say that the Interstate Highway System is very impressive.   I had made the trip across the country several times about 40 years ago when there were only a few segments of the highway system available for use – most in the east. There is certainly much to be said for traveling on “local” roads including being in real towns and the people who live in them (as opposed to commercial rest stops) as well as eating local and regional food along the way. There is, however, something awesome about the Interstate Highway System as it exists today.

Traveling just less than 3000 miles in four days provided the opportunity to see America’s landscape transition from eastern small farms and hills in Pennsylvania and Ohio to larger Midwestern farms in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota to massive catttle ranches through South Dakota and Montana.  The forests of the Rockies then carried us into Idaho and onto the barren lava plains west of Spokane  to enter the mountains again – this time the Cascades, and then to Seattle.    While traveling this route, it was impossible not to be aware of the heavy concentration of  tractor trailers trucks – mostly with double trailers – and not realize that the Interstate Highway System is an economic life line in the United States.  Moving  goods from any number of manufacturers to any
number of destinations – factories, distribution centers, stores, etc. is key
to our economy.  One couldn’t help but notice the number of FedEx, UPS, US Post Office and other delivery services that cater to individuals as well. One could also not help but notice that these highways are in receiving constant and necessary maintenance.  Not only do they constantly supply the country with necessary goods at multiple levels but their maintenance also provides thousands of jobs.

The federal highway program, known as the National Interstate and Defense Highway Act of 1956, was initially created with $25 billion to build 41,000 miles of interstate highway over ten years. President Eisenhower was a strong advocate for this program from the inception of his term in 1952. It has been said that his support for such a highway system was a result of his seeing the early advantage that Germany had from its autobahn in WWII and, later, how the autobahn helped the Allies occupy Germany.   His support for this highway system is the reason it is also known as the Dwight David Eisenhower Interstate Highway System. 

Funding for the federal highway program is due to expire on June 30, 2012. Some funding comes from the federal gasoline and diesel fuel tax but additional funding is required to continue to maintain and expand this highway system.  Attempts by the Senate and House to reach agreement on extending it have not been successful – mostly due to their tying its extension to other issues such as approval of the Keystone oil pipeline.  Now it seems that the US Senate has been able to arrive at a possible agreement which would extend it. Whether the House of Representatives can reach agreement in the coming few days is unknown.  It seems unimaginable that a program that provides the underpinnings to much of the United States manufacturing and commercial economy could be in danger of not being funded.  I hope that is not the case.



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