The Long Road Ahead

In 1956 the first ground was broken on the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways; 37 years later marked the completion of 42,800-miles of the original system. In 1991 construction began on Tennessee State Route 840; 26 years later the 78-mile road opened up for traffic. If we built nearly 43,000-miles of interstate in 37 years, and the 1,397-mile long Alaskan Highway took less than a year to build, why does the construction of just 78-miles of highway take 26 years?

The answer to that question is not an easy one. The Alaskan Highway for one was built during a time of war and was considered a necessity to facilitate the transport of military equipment integral to our national defense. Not to mention, many original parts of the highway were little better than an off-road trail once finished. Much also has changed since the start of Eisenhower's interstate system in the 1950s. Today, all new road construction, and often modifications of existing roads, requires environmental studies to assess the impact they will have on the region's ecosystem. During the construction of the Alaskan Highway, the only environmental question was "Do I use dynamite or a bulldozer to carve out the road?"

In addition to the environmental impacts on road construction, many new roads will face battles in court for a variety of reasons. During the 1970s, the I-696 interstate in metro Detroit faced opposition from local communities concerned about pedestrian access to the other side of the highway, and also was delayed due to concerns that vehicle emissions and noise would disturb the animals at the Detroit Zoo, adjacent to the highway. A segment expected to be completed by 1976 didn?t open up to the public until 1989.

What does all this mean to the transportation industry- It means a truly long road ahead to transportation reform and reduced congestion on America's busiest roads. More important though are the steps that we as transportation professionals can take to get involved in conversations surrounding transportation reform. The electoral rhetoric that fills our mailboxes and TV screens every four years may be over, but our ability to take part in our representative government is not. Despite your political opinions, it is important to stay in contact with elected officials at all levels. From cities and townships all the way up to the U.S. Congress, as transportation professionals, we have the ability to help educate our leaders on the issues most important to our industry and how road construction and maintenance is integral to our success.

So next time you see a public hearing regarding a new road project, consider stopping by and helping our industry move a little further down the long road ahead.

This entry was posted on November 26th, 2012 by jhubbard and is filed under Recent News & Updates.