History of the U.S. Highway System

The conceptualization and the establishment of the US Highway System proved to be a very important part of the history of the United States. The US Highway System didn’t just give people opportunities to easily move from one place to another, but it also served as a 20th Century icon. It also paved the way to various economic developments and opportunities during the 20th Century. The US Highway System greatly contributed to 20th Century American history and culture. In addition, the US Highway System eventually became the predecessor and model for the road developments made in the next few decades.

The development of paved roads and highways first started with Henry Ford’s mass production of a car he named Model T. During the early days of Model T, Henry Ford conceptualized a means of making automobile production more productive and less costly. He organized his workers and had each one work on a specialized task. This concept gave birth to the production line, which made automobiles very easy to produce. Eventually, millions of Model Ts were produced and there were approximately 16.5 million cars sold. Both cheap oil costs and the automobile production line sparked the automobile revolution, which eventually demanded more paved roads instead of wagon roads and trails. The automobile revolution also caused the US government to create boulevard stops, lane striping, traffic islands, stoplights, and motels.

The US government continued to establish paved roads to meet the demands of automobile users. The development of paved or cobblestone roads marked the beginning of marked interstate highways. The first interstate “named” highway to undergo such a facelift was the Lincoln Highway, which stretches from New York to San Francisco. It was the first highway to become an interstate highway and it was also the first continuous transcontinental highway. However, there were some problems with the first highways. First, there was no central organization associated with the planning of the highways from state to state. This gave self-serving organizations opportunities to exploit such routes moving them so they would run through specific cities. Second, the signage used on the highways was individually designed by the states meaning that the designs and colors varied from one state to another. This caused great confusion among motorists, which is why the authorities saw the need for a standardized highway system.

In 1924, a resolution was drafted by the American Association of State Highway Officials to reach a plan for establishing a standardized system of highways. The conceptualization gave birth to the US Highway System, which was created through the Federal Aid Act of 1925. The US Highway System was basically a response to the problems and confusion caused by the Named Highway System. The former system was based on the systems established by Michigan and Wisconsin because both states have successfully made signed numbered routes. The construction and maintenance of the US Highways was financed by the Federal Government, but their construction was supervised by the states. According to sources, the US Highway System became the most comprehensive road system since the Romans. It soon gave birth to the Interstate Highways.

The publication of the Interstate Highway Act of 1956 marked the end of the US Highway as the primary highway system. Four years after the publication, the division of highways commenced. This new Act changed the existing signs of the US highways so that they would have standard signs and legislative numbers. This change alone left out more than half of the completed US Highways and these highways were eventually eliminated from the map. The others were shortened and/or decommissioned. The development of the interstate highways was so fast that the number of interstate highways in 1962 soon doubled after a decade or so. There were only a few interstate highways and 23 US Highways in 1962. A decade later, eight truncated US Highways were left, while the number of Interstate Highways increased to twenty.

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