The Eisenhower Interstate System by John Murphy

By John Murphy

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In addition to putting Americans back on the job, Roosevelt intended to have them create public works of lasting practical and symbolic value—enduring monuments to American grit, determination, know-how, and craftsmanship. MacDonald’s emerging network of interstate roads meshed perfectly with Roosevelt’s vision of a busily employed citizen workforce laboring on a project that would be both a symbol of undiminished American greatness and ambition and a public resource of enormous practical and daily utility.

Rather than the usual two-lane highways that MacDonald had been building, Roosevelt wanted these new interstates to be “superhighways”: wide four-lane expressways free of the frequent stop signs, traffic lights, town and city intersections, and railroad crossings that slowed and bunched the traffic that increasingly congested MacDonald’s roadways. In some ways, though MacDonald’s federal-aid highways were still under construction, they were already becoming obsolete: More and more drivers clogged the roads, many of them wishing to bypass villages, towns, and cities altogether and simply drive long distances unimpeded by any slowdowns and interruptions.

The postwar years, and the hope and prosperity they inspired, resulted in a prolonged “baby boom” that greatly swelled the nation’s population and the size of the average American family. Before the war, the majority of Americans lived in cities, often in close proximity to—if not in the same apartment as— their extended families, including siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. The general availability of automobiles, the increase in paved highways that led into and out of cities, the growing size of American families, and the sudden need to find housing for newly returned soldiers all contributed to growing suburbanization throughout the country.

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