Presidents who shaped how we get around

Did you know that our Interstate Highway System is actually called the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways?

So next time you hear people arguing if it’s called “I-5” or “The 5”, be sure to let them you know you prefer calling it “Dwight D. Eisenhower National Interstate and Defense Highway 5”.

President Eisenhower championed the idea that America needed a network of interstate highways to move people, freight, and military throughout our country. He signed the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act on June 29, 1956 which originally authorized $25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles of highway within 10 years.

Map of The Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate/finalmap.cfm

President John F. Kennedy saw the need for mass transportation to be central to urban design.

As cities and suburbs grew across the country in the 50s, local mass transit was struggling. Streetcar lines were shutting down, and new infrastructure was expensive for local and state governments.

President Kennedy signed the Omnibus Housing Act on June 30 1961 that included $75 million in federal grants and loans to support state and local mass transportation pilot projects and set the stage for a larger mass transportation bill. A year later he asked congress to establish a program to federally fund mass transportation. Unfortunately Kennedy wasn’t around to see his vision enacted into law.

“To conserve and enhance values in existing urban areas is essential. But at least as important are steps to promote economic efficiency and livability in areas of future development… Our national welfare therefore requires the provision of good urban transportation, with the properly balanced use of private vehicles and modern mass transport to help shape as well as serve urban growth.” President John F Kennedy to congress in 1962

President Lyndon B. Johnson carried out Kennedy’s vision and signed the Urban Mass Transportation Act on July 9, 1964.

The initial act provided $375 million for mass transportation grants over 3 years, and established the Urban Mass Transportation Administration known as the Federal Transit Administration today. The Federal Transit Administration continues to fund $12 billion annually to support local and state mass transit.

“We are a nation of travelers. You cannot write our history without devoting many chapters to the pony express, the stagecoach, the railroad, the automobile, the airplane. . . Yet, until 1964, the Federal Government did little or nothing to help the urban commuter.” – President Lyndon B. Johnson, on Remarks at the Signing of the Urban Mass Transportation Act.

These presidents, and many others, looked to the future and saw the importance of investing in our country’s transportation systems. Enjoy your President’s Day!

Photo by Nicole Y-C on Unsplash