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The 5 Major Ways the Highway System Changed the Nation Forever

America wouldn’t be the same without her highway systems. Since the U.S. The Interstate Highway System began in the mid-20th century, the country changed in several profound ways. This system of roads would lead to a cultural, social, and economic shift in the country. So, in the spirit of the American highway, we thought we’d reflect on how all of this changed America. 

How did highways alter the country and how have they evolved? 

Let’s take a look. 

The Interstate Highway System is Born 

We’ve discussed before the brief history of the highway system. It all begins with the automobile and the cultural shift that the innovation of the personal vehicle had on society. Ford’s Model T was introduced in 1908. Other companies like Mercedes and GM were also working tirelessly to out-engineer each other. In America, the Model T became the first easily accessible and affordable vehicle for the average person, and once people across the country began to purchase them, the rest is history. 

By 1929, 26 million cars were on the roads. The problem then was the roads were not built to handle such traffic. The roads became crowded and as cities expanded, it seemed clear that there might be a better way to adapt and welcome in the industrialized age. It wasn’t until after the second world war, however, when America had its economic boom that President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act. It was not a new idea. FDR had toyed with the concept decades earlier, but it had not materialized. 

Once it did, however, everything changed. 

The 5 Radical Ways that the Highway System Changed America 

The far-reaching effects of laying down thousands of miles of concrete highways have had unmeasurable effects on the nation. Here’s how this system revolutionized America and made us the travel-happy road-trip-obsessed culture we are!

#1 Opened up the Country 

A road opens up connections between places and that’s precisely what the highway system did. In a matter of years, people in one state could easily access another state. As the highways got more sophisticated and easier to follow, it meant that people ventured out of their towns and explored the world around them. Suddenly, the cross-country road trip was achievable by almost anybody. This led to the establishment of hotels, roadside diners, etc. 

#2 The Shift in American Culture 

There was plenty of resistance against the highway system. The reasons varied. For some, it was about the many communities it would leave displaced and did. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 475,000 households and more than a million people found themselves displaced thanks to the building of the highways. This did create a lot of backlash and resentment. 

For others, it was about removing the rugged nature of American roads and tainting the scenery with too much concrete. John Steinbeck famously argued that highways were great for moving goods but not for inspecting the countryside. He added, “When we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.”

And in spite of some of the negative aspects of the highway system, the building of these long concrete roads continued and ultimately would change the landscape of America, the way that people travel, and so on. 

#3 Expanded & Changed Cities

It was not necessarily intended for these highways to run through urban areas, but much of the Interstate project did so. This broke up cities and changed the urban landscape. Approximately 12% of the Interstate system runs through urban areas. At the same time, the small town suffered. Many of the early highways connected smaller towns and maintained a culture and atmosphere of vibrant small towns. The Interstate system, however, bypassed many of them, which led to a loss of jobs and population, as most of the work lined up along the major highways. 

#4 Decimated the Railroad Industry 

The railroads played a big role in the U.S. growing economy. Throughout the 19th century, they were the top mode of transportation for passengers and for goods. As the convenience of the automobile and highway improved, the train was no longer as convenient. It required massive infrastructure, constant maintenance, and a scheduled departure. Instead, the Interstate system allowed for people to get in their cars and drive at any time. It also allowed for the shipping of goods to shift to an independent schedule. 

#5 Shipping and Commerce 

The trucking industry was well served by the Interstate system. Trucks could not transport goods across the country with relative ease.  If a truck had to drive from Colorado to New York, for example, it no longer had to pass through every town. The interstate system allowed them to zoom past states. 

The interstate system also altered the center of American manufacturing and opened up other areas of the country for manufacturing plants and factories. As the trucking industry evolved, other innovations like the shipping container were introduced. The shipping container revolutionized the way that goods were shipped directly from ports to their final destination, making the process easy and more effective. This led to a massive shift in the way that goods traveled across the country, as many now could get their goods shipped.

Construction Services in New Mexico 

Every day, a new road is built. Since 1980, an average of 6,500 miles of new roads have been built each year. Our country is uber-connected. Here at Constructor’s Inc, we are a part of reconstructing, repairing and building new roads and passageways that help cities, communities, and states be connected. 
For professional construction services, call Constructors, Inc today and learn more about what we do.

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