Ike’s interstate is nearly done
Ike, your work is finally, nearly done. Rest easy now.
One of the most important legacies of Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower, our 34th president, is within weeks of completion. The last unfinished segment of Route 95, the highway that connects Miami to the Canadian border in Maine, is due to be completed later this month. It is the country’s most-used highway in terms of vehicle miles traveled, according to the federal Department of Transportation.
The final gap is a stubborn stretch in New Jersey on the Pennsylvania border, where local residents for decades resisted appeals to let the highway go through. But when that segment is completed, by tying the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the north-south interstate highway, a driver could drive 1,900 miles without stopping from the northeastern tip of the country to the Gulf of Mexico.
It is a significant historical moment. This $420 million interchange project will be the last one to be funded with Interstate Completion Funds.
While other presidents before Eisenhower imagined a system of highways connecting all sections of the country, it was Ike who championed the project. From his experience as commander of the Allied Forces in World War II, he recognized the German system of interconnected highways as an important element of a country’s national defenses. He saw the potential need to hurry military forces and equipment around the United States and that was one of the reasons Congress overwhelmingly passed the 1956 Federal Aid Highway Act.
President Eisenhower also saw an interstate highway system as a way to reduce traffic deaths while connecting Americans from all regions. During a public safety conference in 1954, he marveled at predictions that there would be 80 million cars on the roads in America by 1975.
All those cars, he said, “mean progress for our country. They mean greater convenience for greater numbers of people, greater happiness, and greater standards of living. But we have got to learn to control the things that we must use ourselves, and not let them be a threat to our lives and to our loved ones.”
Now there are about 270 million cars registered in America.
In the early days, the highways were 90 percent funded by the federal government and 10 percent by local authorities — a proportion that was nearly reversed under the infrastructure plan touted earlier this year by President Trump. The missing Route 95 link in New Jersey is half paid for by the federal government, with the rest coming from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Today, the greatest obstacle to major transportation projects is the ability of local governments to pay their shares.
At any rate, with the Route 95 link project near its end, America’s 62-year-old vision of a national system of interstate highways is being fulfilled. President Eisenhower said “good roads will save lives” and will be “of great economic value.” He was right on both counts.