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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - May/June 2004

Guest Editorial

Looking at New Ways of Doing Business

A time traveler journeying back 100 years to 1904 would find a period of tremendous transition. The Wright brothers had just completed their first flight in December. Telephones were the new form of communication. The electric light was beginning to transform cities, and oil and gas pipelines already crossed State lines. Both the bicycle and automobile were so prevalent that crude wagon paths and trails would not be sufficient much longer.


The year 1904 must have been an exciting time for those involved in building roadways. A group called the Good Roads Association was barnstorming the country, stirring up public support for a system of highways that would span the continent. States were setting up their own highway departments. And the Federal government's 10-year-old Office of Road Inquiry was coordinating all the efforts.

Fast-forward 50 years and a time traveler would find another era of change. Transportation officials proposed a revolutionary system of highways that would dramatically change the way Americans traveled, forever altering the Nation and the lives of its citizens. The transportation industry again found itself at the forefront of change. Could highway department workers in California or Massachusetts, design engineers in Chicago, or Federal workers in Washington have had any notion that they were about to become engaged in the largest public works project in the history of mankind?

Move forward another 50 years and the road system that was excellent in its day no longer sufficiently handles present-day demands. Congestion is at an all-time high. Road construction causes months or years of delays and headaches. And safety is a constant concern. Trucking is the dominant method of moving goods—freight—but hauling such heavy loads makes road maintenance seem a never-ending task.

Just as the transportation community of 50 years ago faced the task of building a national Interstate System, today the transportation community is looking at how to best utilize resources, lessen congestion, improve safety, and increase the longevity of the infrastructure that has been built incrementally over the last 50 years. Moving away from simply building highways the same way the transportation community has built them for decades can be done by using innovative practices and processes, and involving nontraditional partners from outside the highway community.

The transportation community must find solutions. How we—as individuals, as agencies, and as a collective highway community—respond to the call for a new way of looking at transportation and highway projects can mean all the difference. We must dedicate ourselves to meeting the challenge and performing the job at hand to the best of our abilities.



Mary E. Peters


Federal Highway Administration