Today in History, March 15, 1968:
Construction begins on the Eisenhower Tunnel west of Denver, Colorado. The highest vehicle tunnel in the world, the tunnel cuts 1.6+ miles at over 11,000 feet, cutting through the Continental Divide and connecting Interstate 70. It takes much longer, and is much more dangerous to cross the Divide by driving over the mountain.
The tunnel was named after President Dwight Eisenhower, who was President in the 50’s when the Interstate road system was begun.
As a young Army Major in 1919 Eisenhower had been involved with a transcontinental convoy that traveled from Washington, DC to San Francisco. The convoy averaged 5 mph and faced much difficulty in navigating the country’s poor road system. This experience is why creating a modern, safe road system was one of President Eisenhower’s primary goals.
Today in History, June 29: 1956 – President Dwight Eisenhower signs the Federal Aid Highway Act, aka the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act into law. Our interstate highway system was initially justified as an assurance that the military would be able to move quickly across the country in the event our nation was invaded by a foreign power; the initial layout ensured air force bases were linked. Eisenhower had been involved, as a young US Army Lieutenant, in the Transcontinental Motor Convoy of 1919, which was designed to draw attention to the need for better roadways, again for military purposes. The trip in 1919 took approximately two months during which broken bridges had to be rebuilt, trucks pulled out of the mud by the soldiers on the “Lincoln Highway”. Later, when he commanded the US forces in Europe during WWII, Eisenhower was impressed by the German Autobahn. So when he was elected, getting our interstate highway system was his pet project.
Old motel sign along historic route 66.
Today in History, June 27: 1985 – Route 66, The Mother Road, Main Street of America, Will Rogers Highway, is decommissioned in the National Highway System, bypassed by more modern “interstate highways.” In 1857, Navy Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale, working for the US Army Topographical Engineers, charted a wagon road across the western US. In the 1920’s, amidst Congressional acts creating a national highway system, Tulsa businessman Cyrus Avery and businessmen in Springfield, Missouri began lobbying for a highway that would roughly follow Beale’s route, and incidentally draw business away from Wichita to Tulsa, OKC and numerous other small cities between Chicago and L.A. In 1926 they got their way and Route 66 was born. For the next several decades small communities were connected by the highway, the trucking industry took off due to it’s influence, travelers stopped at new motels, drive-ins, etc…the entire culture of America was changed as Americans were able to see their country on vacations easily. In the 50’s, Congress approved President Eisenhower’s proposals for an interstate highway system, born from his youth as an Army officer when he traveled across the country on insufficient roads. By the 70’s, the interstates had rendered Route 66 obsolete, and by 1985 it was decommissioned. 85% of the route still exists, and has become a tourist hotspot for those that miss the romanticism it engendered. Traveling it’s route is definitely on my bucket list!