Divided Highways

Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life

Tom Lewis
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Divided Highways
    Book Description:

    InDivided Highways, Tom Lewis offers an encompassing account of highway development in the United States. In the early twentieth century Congress created the Bureau of Public Roads to improve roads and the lives of rural Americans. The Bureau was the forerunner of the Interstate Highway System of 1956, which promoted a technocratic approach to modern road building sometimes at the expense of individual lives, regional characteristics, and the landscape. With thoughtful analysis and engaging prose Lewis charts the development of the Interstate system, including the demographic and economic pressures that influenced its planning and construction and the disputes that pitted individuals and local communities against engineers and federal administrators.

    This is a story of America's hopes for its future life and the realities of its present condition. It is an engaging history of the people and policies that profoundly transformed the American landscape-and the daily lives of Americans. In this updated edition ofDivided Highways, Lewis brings his story of the Interstate system up to date, concluding with Boston's troubled and yet triumphant Big Dig project, the growing antipathy for big federal infrastructure projects, and the uncertain economics of highway projects both present and future.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6783-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface to the Cornell Edition
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Tom Lewis
  4. Preface: A Space Filled with Moving
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. PART 1

    • 1 THE CHIEF
      (pp. 3-24)

      The National Road in the Allegheny Mountains west of Cumberland, Maryland, on a spring day in the early 1920s. Leo J. Beachy, a self-taught photographer crippled by multiple sclerosis, has been transported to the site on Negro Mountain by his sister. She has helped him to set up his camera and record scenes of the road and its travelers. Beachy flags down a touring car as it crests the hill. The seven passengers—two families, perhaps—get out, stretch, and pose. The women are dressed in coats and hats, which help to keep off the dust. The men appear to...

      (pp. 25-46)

      From the perspective of the sky, the scene suggests effortless mastery. In the foreground are the distinctive buildings of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Surrounding them is a gigantic network of roads, resembling the appendages of an immense creature a mythic hero might use to tame the sprawl of sea and rivers and land. At the middle left, one of the creature’s arms rises gracefully toward the center, leaps a wide expanse of water, gently declines to the right across an island, and spans more water to yet another island. The arm divides. One aims toward the top of...

      (pp. 47-70)

      It is exactly 12:01 A.M. on the morning of Tuesday, October 1, 1940. Men and youths, nearly all wearing ties and many in suits and jackets, pose around a truck. The mood is festive as they swarm around the cab and the front hood. The driver smiles as he stands on the running board, his left hand gripping the open door. The arms of many wave high in celebration. There is a sense among them that they are a part of a significant moment. One man wearing a sweater beneath his suit jacket leaps into the camera’s view and lands...

      (pp. 71-92)

      Moving day; Lakewood, Los Angeles County, California; summer 1953. ALifephotographer captures the moment the trucks unload the contents of dozens of homes. At dawn, houses and streets had been quiet and empty; by dusk, they would teem with children on bicycles, husbands and wives, babies in strollers, and, always, cars in driveways.

      On the fringes of the nation’s great metropolitan areas—Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles—moving day repeats itself continually. A land of farms and cities is fast transforming into a nation of cities and suburbs. Los Angeles leads the way—400 people arrive...

  6. PART 2

    • 5 A GRAND PLAN
      (pp. 95-124)

      Though much altered from his original conception, the city of Washington still bears the bold signature of its visionary designer, Pierre Charles L’Enfant. L’Enfant believed the city’s landscape should reflect the mind of the new republic. Congress had decided to build its “Capitol City” on ten square miles beside the Potomac River, at the symbolic center of the nation. It is to L’Enfant’s credit that he could see any greatness at all in the site, which was largely marsh and swamp. The population of America stood around four million; its largest city, New York, had about 33,000 people. Nevertheless, L’Enfant...

      (pp. 125-154)

      At one-thirty on the afternoon of Wednesday, November 14, 1956, a line of thirteen men stands shoulder to shoulder on a fresh twenty-four-foot wide, nine-inch-thick slab of portland concrete that stretches from Valencia, at the western edge of Topeka, Kansas, eight miles to Maple Hill Corner on the Wabaunsee County line. As they face the camera, each rests a hand on the wide ribbon that stretches before them. At the center, holding a ceremonial pair of scissors, Governor Fred Hall presides over the occasion. Flanking him are the director of the Kansas State Highway Department, Frank Harwi, Jr., the state’s...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
      (pp. 155-176)

      Interstate 80, near North Platte, Nebraska. Situated about twenty-eight hundred feet above sea level in the Platte River Valley, the city of North Platte cleaves to a long narrow delta where the north fork of the Platte River from Wyoming merges with the south fork of the Platte from Colorado. The community of North Platte has long served travelers, a place people pass through on their way to someplace else. Those who traveled the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri, usually stopped in North Platte on their way to the Pacific Northwest. In 1846, the Vermont native Brigham Young led the...

  7. PART 3

    • 8 REVOLT
      (pp. 179-210)

      More than anything else, the river defines New Orleans. As it reaches the city, the broad Mississippi becomes more twisted and torturous, locked in a struggle with the very land itself to keep it from emptying its mighty flood of water and silt into the Gulf of Mexico. At one strategic bend in the river that from the air resembles a crescent, Jean-Baptiste Sieur de Bienville, governor of the French colony, established the city of New Orleans in 1718. Adrien de Pauger, assistant to the French royal engineer, laid out streets and located public buildings around the Place d’Armes, a...

      (pp. 211-238)

      A Federal Highway Administration “status map” of the Interstate Highway System, March 1970. Each quarter, the federal government published the map in engineering periodicals, and occasionally in mass-circulation magazines likeLifeand theSaturday Evening Post,to show its progress in completing the network of superhighways. By March 1970, the status map showed nearly thirty thousand miles—three-quarters of the puzzle pieces—were in place and close to five thousand more miles were under construction. For nearly fourteen years, highway builders had been transforming thin lines that denoted “under construction” or “not yet in progress” into bold red lines signifying...

    • 10 NEW RULES
      (pp. 239-260)

      If you’re looking at a map, the roads surrounding the cities of Dallas and Forth Worth suggest a large barbell. An Interstate rings each city while two other Interstates connect them in a straight east-west line. These highways serve the same purpose for cars and trucks as a railroad roundhouse. Drivers can get on the Interstates and turn in any direction they wish. The roads connect them not only to places in Texas but to anywhere in the nation.

      You can find the same roundhouse pattern in city after city of the South and Midwest. The Department of Defense wanted...

      (pp. 261-278)

      The city of Las Vegas, Nevada, on Interstate 15. Interstate 15 begins in the center of San Diego and traverses Nevada, Utah, and Idaho, before ending 1,435 miles later at Sweet-grass, Montana, on the Canadian border. Along the way the route touches major cities, including Las Vegas; Salt Lake City; Pocatello, Idaho; and Great Falls, Montana. With a population increase of fifty-seven percent between 1980 and 1990, Las Vegas ranks with the fastest-growing cities in the nation. But there are places on Interstate 15 that rank with the most inhospitable territory in the United States. And there are places that...

      (pp. 279-292)

      Those who live in Saratoga Springs know Route 50 as the road to the malls. From this vantage point one sees not the malls but the parasitic enterprises that attach themselves alongside the edges of the great host, the indoor shopping mall—fast-food restaurants, a cheap steak house, gasoline stations, and the automobile shopping plaza that sells five car brands. These are the icons of the new American corporate Eden—as Gertrude Stein might have put it, a land where there is no there there.

      It had not always been that way. This part of the country is known as...

      (pp. 293-318)

      June 26, 1986, the thirtieth anniversary of the road system that had reshaped America’s landscape and economy passed with a muted presidential proclamation from Ronald Reagan and a quiet, unnoticed ceremony at the Capitol with President Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Susan. On the surface at least, the conservative Republican from Dixon, Illinois, seemed to have little regard for the great public works project—the greatest in America’s history—that had been imagined by a conservative Republican from Abilene, Kansas. To be sure Reagan wanted to maintain and improve the roads that were already built. But as the champion of what he called...

  8. Sources and Notes
    (pp. 319-358)
  9. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 359-366)
  10. Supplemental Bibliography to the Cornell Edition
    (pp. 367-368)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 369-372)
  12. Index
    (pp. 373-387)