It’s Interstate day! On June 29, 1956, the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 was passed. President Dwight Eisenhower was a strong supporter of the measure, and the resultant Eisenhower Interstate System bears his name. Eisenhower got his first real exposure to the “interstate” when, serving as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II, he saw Germany’s autobahn. He realized that a similar system would work well in the U.S., not only for public and commercial transport, but also to move armed forces in national emergencies.
Within months of passage, road-work was under way, and would continue for more than 35 years. Though the EIS is officially finished, new construction still continues. Funded almost entirely through the fuel taxes we pay at the gas pumps, the initial $25 billion cost estimate has been paid many times over.
You won’t find stop signs or street lights on the Interstates, because “on-grade” access is, almost without exception, prohibited. What that means is entering (or exiting) the Interstate always requires that drivers use an entrance (or exit) ramp rather than simply coming to a corner and turning right or left.
The Interstate system also has a unique numbering system. North-south roads are odd-numbered, increasing from west to east. East-west roads are even-numbered, increasing from south to north. The numbering rules for 3-digit branches (such as I-380 in Cedar Rapids, IA and I-270 in St. Louis, MO) are even more entertaining to decipher, but there is a standard. The signs used are (of course) red, white, and blue and the design is trademarked, so don’t make your Renaissance Festival shields to look like Interstate signs and expect to get away with it.
At 3,099 miles, I-90 is the nation’s longest Interstate. The shortest is I-375 in Detroit, MI, at just a tick over one mile. I’ve actually been on both…pretty cool. Of all the Interstate I’ve driven (and it’s not very much), my favorite sections are I-24 in Kentucky and Tennessee, I-75 north of Atlanta, I-80 through western Nebraska and Wyoming, and I-25 from Cheyenne down to Denver. And I drive a bit of I-80/35 every day (which gives you an idea of where I live). So drive on an Interstate today. No matter what state you live in, there’s a little bit of Interstate nearby. And with nearly 47,000 miles to choose from, you’re bound to see something interesting.