A Century of Innovation
On July 11, 2016, the Federal Highway Administration will celebrate the centennial of the Federal-Aid Highway Program. As discussed in “Celebrating a Double Anniversary” on page 4 in this issue of Public Roads, Federal and State highway leaders worked with Congress to pass the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916. Few could have imagined that a bill intended to get the United States out of the mud--a common problem on the Nation’s roads at the time--would pave the way for a century of roadbuilding and lay the foundation for the 20th century’s most powerful economy.
In the 1920s and 1930s, under the Federal Aid Road Act, FHWA and its partners built out a national network of two-lane paved highways. Those construction jobs helped the United States dig its way out of the Great Depression, and those new roads later served military needs during World War II. After construction of the interstate system, the environmental movement of the 1960s transformed how transportation professionals think about the work we do.
Once the U.S. Department of Transportation opened its doors in April 1967, practitioners began to view highways as part of a complex intermodal transportation network. The oil shortages of the 1970s further underscored the importance of embracing travel alternatives such as transit and bicycling. By the 1980s, the focus was preserving the country’s investment in the aging interstate system. The post-interstate era began with enactment of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. All the while, FHWA continued working with State and local partners to reduce traffic fatalities from a peak of nearly 55,000 annually in the early 1970s to about 33,000 in 2014.
Despite all that USDOT and FHWA have accomplished with our partners, we can never rest on our laurels. Roads continue to require investment to serve the people. New challenges arise, such as working with partners to implement transportation performance measures, improve our vital freight network, and, as always, make travel safer.
Every day, I walk past photographs of my predecessors, dating back to General Roy Stone in 1893. Throughout the years, leaders have had the benefit of a skilled, dedicated workforce of men and women who understood the importance of the work they do. That remains true today. FHWA has benefited from the commitment of State and local partners, the construction trade, academia, and--to be honest--critics, who encouraged us to find better ways to proceed.
In 1916, mud was the problem. A century later, U.S. roads and travelers face new challenges: growing congestion in urban centers, increasing fiscal constraints, and improving safety with a highly mobile public in an interconnected world. If the transportation community can draw a single lesson from 100 years of the Federal-Aid Highway Program, 60 years of the interstate system and the Highway Trust Fund, and five decades of FHWA and USDOT, it is this: Our workforce and partners are the lifeblood of the Federal-Aid Highway Program. With your help and continued innovation, FHWA will continue to rise to--and meet--the challenges of the 21st century.
Gregory G. Nadeau
Federal Highway Administration