100th Anniversary - An Evolving Partnership
In honor of AASHTO's 100th anniversary, FHWA examines the historic State-Federal collaboration during the interstate era. This two-part series concludes here.
State highway officials formed the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) in December 1914. To survive 100 years, any organization must evolve in the context of social, economic, technological, and political changes. Before the interstate era, AASHO evolved through the rough start of the Federal-Aid Highway Program in 1916, World War I, the Roaring ’20s, the Depression and New Deal of the 1930s, World War II, and the postwar economic recovery and Baby Boom.
To read the first article in this two-part celebration of AASHTO’s 100th anniversary, see “Celebrating a Century of Cooperation” in the September/October 2014 issue of Public Roads. To continue the story, this second article details the evolution of AASHO and its successor, the American Association of State High-way and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), as the premiere voice of transportation officials around the country.
The Interstate System
Historians usually tell the story of the interstate system from a Federal perspective, with emphasis on the roles of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower, Federal highway leaders, congressional action, and Federal reports such as Toll Roads and Free Roads (1939) and Interregional Highways (1944). The Federal perspective is valid, but only if it includes AASHO/AASHTO as partners throughout the conception, launch, and construction of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.
Construction of the interstate system began in earnest after President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, but the history of the system began in the 1930s.
State Highway Planning Surveys
During the 1930s, proposals for transcontinental superhighways were common. The businessmen and visionaries behind the proposals usually saw them as toll roads with adjacent excess right-of-way that could be sold or rented for commercial or residential purposes to pay for the highway construction.
President Roosevelt favored such schemes. In February 1938, he called Chief Thomas H. MacDonald of the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) to the White House and asked him to study the feasibility of building a network of toll superhighways with excess right-of-way. The President had drawn the routes on the 1935 edition of the “United States System of Highways” map.
MacDonald sent a report to the President in April, explaining that the superhighways on most of the network would not carry enough traffic for toll revenue to repay the construction bonds. The report concluded that superhighways were needed mainly in congested metropolitan areas and as connectors linking neighboring large cities. In addition, because of current State and Federal laws, the acquisition of right-of-way for the superhighways, let alone excess right-of-way, would be a major challenge that could best be met by establishing a Federal authority to acquire land not only for the superhighways but for all Federal land needs.
The report, however, was not made public. Instead, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1938 called on BPR to report to Congress on a similar concept.
By the time of the 1938 Act, MacDonald and his top aide, Herbert S. Fairbank, had finished analyzing the data for the report to Congress. The data were a result of the Hayden-Cartwright Act of 1934, which had authorized the State highway agencies to use 1.5 percent of their Federal-aid apportionment “for surveys, plans, and engineering investigations of projects for future construction. . . .”
The States and BPR had sought this provision for a State-by-State national survey on road conditions. Included would be width, type, design, adjacent uses, and safety issues; traffic data, such as classification of vehicles, origin and destination data, and the cargo and weight of commercial vehicles; and financial and road use data.
In September 1935, Pennsylvania initiated the first survey for State highway planning. In the end, 46 States participated in the national survey, employing an estimated 15,000 men at the height of the field work, mostly from the relief roles during the peak of the Depression.
Toll Roads and Free Roads
Based on analysis of the data from the State surveys, BPR wrote Toll Roads and Free Roads, which President Roosevelt transmitted to Congress on April 27, 1938. The report, he wrote in the transmittal letter, “emphasizes the need [for] a special system of direct interregional highways, with all necessary connections through and around cities, designed to meet the requirements of the national defense and the needs of a growing peacetime traffic of longer range.”
In its first part, the report explained that the surveys revealed that transcontinental and even long-distance traffic was light. Traffic was mainly local or regional. As a result, most parts of the country could not support the toll transcontinental superhighways suggested by the 1938 Act.
That conclusion should have ended the report that Congress had requested, but to provide a positive conclusion, BPR added a second part: A Master Plan for Free Highway Development. It advocated “a special, tentatively defined system of direct interregional highways, with all necessary connections through and around cities.” Based on the statewide highway planning surveys and defense needs, the master plan described a proposed interregional highway system of about 26,700 miles (42,970 kilometers).
In 1941, President Roosevelt appointed a National Interregional Highway Committee “to investigate the need for a limited system of national highways to improve the facilities now available for interregional transportation.” MacDonald, who was now commissioner of the Public Roads Administration (formerly BPR), was chairman, and Fairbank was secretary. Other active members included the following:
- G. Donald Kennedy, vice chairman, was Michigan’s State highway commissioner and soon-to-be AASHO president (1941–1942). At the time, Kennedy was promoting defense access plans that would result in Detroit’s first modern expressways.
- Charles H. Purcell was the State highway engineer in California (AASHO president, 1937–1938), chief engineer of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and planner of the State’s freeway system.
- Harland Bartholomew, famed city planner from St. Louis, MO, was an advocate of urban expressways who would lay out freeway networks in several cities, including Washington, DC.
Three other members were from outside the highway community and played limited roles in the committee’s activities.
The committee essentially completed its work in October 1941 but put its report aside after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, as the country’s focus shifted to highways for defense.
During the war, the Public Roads Administration worked with AASHO, its member highway agencies, and the Department of War to establish and improve a strategic network of highways and access roads to military reservations and defense industrial plants. In 1942, AASHO published the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways--War Emergency Edition (MUTCD). It included standards for traffic control when cities in wartime blackout prohibited all lights, including vehicle headlights, to thwart potential bombing attacks. (For more on the MUTCD, see the first part of this series in the September/October 2014 issue of Public Roads.)
On July 13, 1943, President Roosevelt approved legislation that authorized Federal-aid funds for defense needs and directed the Public Roads Administration to work with State highway officials to develop highway plans for the postwar era. The plans were to address the provision of jobs for homecoming soldiers after the war to prevent a return of Depression-era unemployment levels. The legislation also asked the commissioner of the Public Roads Administration to report to Congress within 6 months on “the need for a system of express highways.” In essence, Congress wanted the interregional committee’s report.
President Roosevelt submitted Interregional Highways to Congress on January 12, 1944. He said the report recommended “a national system of rural and urban highways . . . interconnecting the principal geographic regions of the country.” This “transcontinental network of modern roads” would help “meet the Nation’s highway transportation needs” and, during the country’s postwar readjustment period, would absorb “a substantial share of the manpower and industrial capacity then available.”
The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944, which President Roosevelt approved on December 20, authorized Federal-aid highway funds for the postwar period. In addition, section 7 called for designation of a National System of Interstate Highways not exceeding 40,000 miles (64,374 kilometers) “to connect by routes, as direct as practicable, the principal metropolitan areas, cities, and industrial centers, to serve the national defense, and to connect at suitable border points with routes of continental importance in the Dominion of Canada and the Republic of Mexico.” The routes were to be “selected by joint action of the State highway departments.”
The 1944 Act did not authorize special funds for the new system, which was eligible for improvement with Federal-aid highway funds. The Federal-State matching ratio would be the same as for other systems: 50/50. Nevertheless, in section 7, Congress set the interstate highway program in motion.
First Steps Launch the Interstate Program
In February 1945, the Public Roads Administration asked each State highway agency to recommend routes for inclusion in the interstate system. Designation procedures had been formulated in cooperation with AASHO’s Subcommittee on Legislation and Administrative Policy.
Simultaneously, the Public Roads Administration worked with AASHO’s Committee on Planning and Design Policies to develop standards for the location and design of interstate highways. AASHO adopted the design standards on August 1, 1945.
The standards included the following:
- A 20-year design period
- Full control of access where State law permitted it or, where not permitted, frontage roads for property service
- Grade separation of crossroads and railroad crossings except where traffic was so low that construction of a separation structure was not economically justified
- Two-lane sections on lightly traveled rural segments
On August 2, 1947, the Public Roads Administration and its parent Federal Works Agency announced designation of 37,681 miles (60,641 kilometers) of the Nation’s principal highways, including 2,882 miles (4,638 kilometers) carrying the main lines through cities. The routes were assigned neither names nor numbers; they were simply black lines on a map. The Public Roads Administration reserved the remaining miles for urban circumferential and distributing routes, with the intention of working with State highway, county, and city officials to plan urban segments.
Alfred E. “Alf” Johnson
When Hal H. Hale, an engineer from Tennessee, resigned at the end of 1954 as executive secretary of AASHO, the association established a committee, consisting of John A. Volpe of Massachusetts, Bertram D. Tallamy of New York, and Rex M. Whitton of Missouri (all future Federal Highway Administrators), to select the next executive secretary. They chose Alfred E. “Alf” Johnson, AASHO’s president at the time, who was then endorsed unanimously by AASHO’s membership.
Johnson would help launch and sustain the interstate era through its most active period before his retirement at the end of 1972. (AASHO changed Johnson’s title to executive director in 1966.) An Arkansas native, Johnson had worked his way up through the State Highway Department, starting as rodman and instrument man in 1927 and becoming chief engineer in 1947.
During that period, he met Francis C. “Frank” Turner, who moved to Little Rock in 1933 as a BPR area engineer. Their friendship would prove instrumental at the start of the interstate era, especially after Turner became Federal Highway Administrator (1969–1972).
In 1954, Johnson was AASHO’s president when President Eisenhower unveiled his Grand Plan for the Nation’s highways at the Governors’ Conference in July. (Due to a death in the family, Eisenhower could not attend; Vice President Richard M. Nixon delivered the speech.) The Grand Plan involved creating “a properly articulated system” to meet transcontinental, intercity, farm-to-market, and urban highway needs. Each level of government would improve its own highways. The President also supported the existing Federal-State partnership that ensured the most efficient level of government would be the manager of its own area.
In addition, the Grand Plan included “a program initiated by the Federal Government, with State cooperation, for the planning and construction of a modern State highway system . . . to construct new, or modernize existing highways.” That was as close as President Eisenhower came to mentioning the interstate system in announcing the Grand Plan. These highways would be financed on a “self-liquidating” basis through tolls or an increase in the existing Federal gas tax.
In November, Johnson delivered his address as outgoing president during AASHO’s annual meeting. Based on the President’s proposal, Johnson said that an expanded highway program, focused on a “nationwide ultramodern interstate system,” was a “certainty.” He believed the program should be carried out through the traditional Federal-State partnership that “has proved its worth and efficiency over the years.”
Johnson left his AASHO presidency with these words: “Without doubt the opportunity we have been awaiting is upon us, and as soon as it is, let us be ready, let us have vision, let us be equal to the task, let us do the job with distinction and honor and above all let us design and build [adequately] for the future. Think big, have confidence, and start your planning for this program from this very moment.”
Launching the Interstate Program
Johnson was already working on the new program. Commissioner of Public Roads Francis V. du Pont of BPR, as the agency was again named, and the President’s top aide, former New Hampshire Governor Sherman Adams, had appointed Johnson, still AASHO’s president, to an advisory committee that included several State highway officials. They prepared a proposal for du Pont based on the concepts in Interregional Highways.
Adams also asked Johnson to work with the Governors. When Vice President Nixon delivered the President’s Grand Plan speech, the Governors were about to approve their annual resolution calling for the Federal Government to devolve most of the Federal-aid highway program to the States. The White House called on several friendly Governors, as well as Johnson, to persuade the Governors to drop their resolution and cooperate with the President. Reluctantly, the Governors did so.
President Eisenhower asked retired General Lucius D. Clay to head a committee to develop a program to realize the Grand Plan. The Clay Committee did not include a highway builder, but Frank Turner provided expertise and access to BPR’s data. Johnson, a special advisor to the Clay Committee, was disappointed when General Clay rejected the drafting committee’s idea of financing the new program with revenue from highway user taxes.
In A 10-Year National Highway Program, the committee called for a $27 billion interstate system program to be financed by a Federal corporation that would issue construction bonds, with the debt backed by the existing 2-cent Federal excise tax on gasoline. The 90-percent Federal share left the States to pay about the same dollar amount as needed to match the token amount of interstate funds under the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1954 at a 60/40 matching share.
On February 22, 1955, President Eisenhower sent the plan to Congress, where it immediately ran into objections focused on financing. Critics argued that the plan tied up the gas tax for 32 years and would pay $12 billion, not to build roads, but to repay bondholders. All financing plans, including one based on increased highway user taxes, were defeated at the end of the session in July. The truckers, oil companies, and other highway interests wanted the interstate system but did not want to pay additional taxes to build it.
In Mandate for Change, 1953–1956: The White House Years, Eisenhower wrote that his aides suggested he call a special session on the issue. “‘Well,’ I said, somewhat ruefully, ‘the special session might be necessary--but calling it could be at the cost of the sanity of one man named Eisenhower.’”
Following defeat of the bill, the White House, BPR, and highway interests, including Johnson, searched for an acceptable financing mechanism. AASHO met with Sherman Adams; Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks; Senator Albert Gore, Sr. (D-TN), chairman of the Subcommittee on Roads; and Representative George H. Fallon (D-MD), Gore’s House counterpart who had prepared the failed House bill linking the interstate system to highway user tax revenue.
In September 1955, BPR released General Location of National System of Interstate Highways, known as the Yellow Book because of the color of its cover. The Yellow Book contained the August 1947 map of the interstate system plus maps showing the designated interstate mileage in major cities. It helped solidify support for the interstate system among urban Members of Congress.
By the time Congress returned in 1956, the interests had coalesced in support of a linkage between highway user tax revenue and the expanded program. Chairman Fallon released a new version of his 1955 bill while Representative Hale Boggs (D-LA) of the House Ways and Means Committee developed the Highway Revenue Act of 1956, which created a Highway Trust Fund in the general Treasury. Congress completed work on the combined bill quickly.
On June 29, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 without fanfare or even a photograph, as he was recovering from surgery at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center at the time. Alf Johnson, on behalf of AASHO, was among those who received a pen used in the signing. The pen remains on display in AASHTO’s offices, along with pens used to sign other legislation.
Federal Highway Administrator
Given the importance of the new program, the Eisenhower Administration decided that the head of BPR should be a presidential appointee and confirmed by the Senate. As Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks explained, the prestige of a presidential appointment would help the new leader “in dealing with the State officials expected to take part in the administration of a highway program of the magnitude and character entrusted to this department.”
Congress approved the legislation establishing the position of Federal Highway Administrator, and President Eisenhower signed it on August 3, 1956.
On October 12, the White House announced that the President had selected Bertram D. Tallamy of New York for the new post. He had served as New York’s Superintendent of Public Works (appointed in 1948), the position he held when he became AASHO’s president (1951–1952). However, he was best known as the driving force behind the New York State Thruway. Tallamy’s selection was widely applauded, but he was not available immediately because of commitments in New York.
The President appointed John A. Volpe of Massachusetts as interim administrator, a temporary position that would not require Senate confirmation. Volpe, who had been Commissioner of Public Works in Massachusetts for 4 years, had planned to return to his Volpe Construction Company, but deferred his return at the President’s request. On October 22, he took the oath of office at the White House. He served until February 5, 1957, when Secretary Weeks administered the oath of office to Tallamy.
Even before enactment of the 1956 Act, BPR had been working with AASHO’s Special Committee on Administrative Design Policies to update the 1945 interstate design standards. America’s Highways 1776–1976 described the major items in the new minimum standards: “Control of access throughout the system; design adequacy for projected 1975 traffic--later changed (in the Federal-Aid Highway Amendments Act of 1963) to a 20-year minimum design period from the date of project approval; 12-foot [3.6-meter] travel lane width; 10-foot [3.0-meter] minimum shoulder width; elimination of railroad grade crossings; elimination of highway at-grade intersections; design speeds of 50, 60, and 70 miles (80, 97, and 113 kilometers) per hour respectively for mountainous, rolling, or flat terrain conditions; curvatures and gradients consistent with design speeds; separated traffic lanes with variable median widths on a right-of-way adequate in width to accommodate these standards; and minimum widths for highway bridges.”
AASHO adopted the new geometric design standards on July 12, 1956, and BPR adopted them on July 17.
AASHO Road Test
Early in the century, highway officials had searched for ways to improve road surfaces. In 1918, BPR undertook a road test on the Agriculture Department’s experimental farm in Arlington, VA, to measure the impact of varying loads on concrete, brick, and bituminous slabs, laid on a circular track. Several road tests followed with varying sponsors over the years.
After World War II, AASHO pursued new systematic experiments assessing the service life of highway pavements. In 1949, an AASHO special committee that included Alf Johnson and the Public Roads Administration’s Fairbank, established procedures for initiating and overseeing road tests. The road tests were to be jointly financed by multiple State highway agencies and were to provide data to develop longer lasting pavements for increased traffic.
The first of these road tests took place in 1950 and 1951 on a stretch of U.S. 301 in LaPlata, MD, to measure the impact of round-the-clock traffic on concrete pavements. The Highway Research Board administered this road test, which was financed by Maryland and 10 other eastern States, the District of Columbia, BPR, truck manufacturers, and the Highway Research Board.
In 1951, the Western Association of State Highway Officials, a division of AASHO, launched a road test to establish load limits for asphalt pavements. Eleven western States joined with BPR and the Highway Research Board for the test on two four-lane loops built in Malad, ID. The test, which ended in 1954, revealed information about the stresses on flexible pavements under varying truck loadings.
The Mississippi Valley Conference of State Highway Departments was considering a third test until AASHO concluded that an expanded test was needed, this time with varied cross sections including asphalt and concrete pavements, a wide range of axle loads, and load impacts on bridges. The test site in Ottawa, IL, was financed by a joint fund of the 48 States, BPR, and others. It consisted of 7 miles (11.3 kilometers) of two-lane pavements in the form of six loops and a straight segment, half concrete, half asphalt. (The straight portion, built with Federal-aid funds, became part of I–80.) The 836 test sections employed a wide range of surface, base, and subbase thicknesses, and included 16 short-span bridges.
The Highway Research Board administered the expanded AASHO road test in Illinois, and the Department of Defense provided vehicles and drivers. Traffic began rolling on October 15, 1958, and ended November 30, 1960.
The test data established the relationships for structural designs based on expected loadings over the life of a pavement. Although the bridge findings were consistent with predictions, the AASHO road test provided the foundation for analytical evaluation of stresses and deflections from moving vehicles. It also set the stage for such similarly comprehensive technical studies as the Long-Term Pavement Performance program begun in 1987 as part of the Strategic Highway Research Program.
The AASHO road test in Illinois was a landmark in highway and bridge design that has never been equaled.
Interstate Numbers and Signs
When BPR designated the rural interstates in 1947 and the urban segments in 1955, the routes appeared as black lines on maps. The bureau did not assign numbers to them. For numbering and marking the interstate system, the agency turned to AASHO.
In reply to a request from Alf Johnson, State highway officials submitted more than 100 designs for the interstate shield. The AASHO Route-Numbering Subcommittee selected the four best designs and posted the signs along a paved county road in Illinois when State highway officials were visiting the AASHO road test. The officials saw the markers by day and night and in sunshine and rain. The chosen design combined Missouri’s and Texas’s designs.
In August 1957, AASHO and BPR decided to adapt the U.S. numbering plan, which AASHO had approved in November 1926, for the interstate system, but in mirror image. Where the lowest odd-numbered U.S. route was on the east coast (U.S. 1), the lowest odd-numbered interstate route would be on the west coast (I–5). Similarly, the lowest even-numbered U.S. route was along the Canadian border (U.S. 2), but the lowest numbered transcontinental interstate route was to be in the South (I–10). The committee applied interstate numbers within the resulting grid.
On August 29, Johnson submitted the plans to Administrator Tallamy, along with a “Numerology Map,” a purpose and policy statement for the numbering, and a photograph of the approved shield. In early September, Tallamy approved AASHO’s proposals.
One remaining issue was the color of the guide signs along the interstate routes. Tallamy preferred blue, the color of the signs on the New York State Thruway. Other officials preferred green. To resolve the issue, BPR and AASHO staged a 2-week test on an unopened section of the Capital Beltway near Greenbelt, MD. Signs were erected in blue, green, and black, some reflectorized, directing motorists to “Metropolis” and “Utopia.”
Hundreds of test motorists commented on the color, shape, and words on the signs. The results were decisive, with 58 percent picking the green background. Results in hand, Tallamy approved the white-on-green design in January 1958.
The following month, AASHO released the first Manual for Signing and Pavement Marking of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. The manual focused on guidance rather than regulation or warning signs. It introduced the green sign with white wording and the interstate shield.
AASHO Adds a “T”
On March 2, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson asked Congress for a Department of Transportation that could coordinate transportation modes. Following congressional approval, President Johnson signed the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 on October 15. The department and the new Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which was created by the Act, began operations on April 1, 1967. The new Secretary of Transportation, Alan S. Boyd, and his immediate successors, former Administrator Volpe and oil executive Claude S. Brinegar, encouraged the States to create similar departments.
In 1967, New Jersey became the first State to establish a department of transportation. By 1973, 20 States and Puerto Rico had established departments consolidating separate modal agencies under a unified leadership.
In November 1972, AASHO established a special committee to consider a broader mandate. As a member of the committee, Iowa Director of Highways Joseph R. Coupal, Jr., told the annual meeting, “It is imperative that future planning for States and the Nation include the study and appropriate utilization of all modes of transportation.” He also recommended that States help “develop new and more efficient systems [that] will reduce pollution and lower the consumption of our energy supply.”
On November 13, 1973, AASHO’s Policy Committee approved a new name for the organization, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, known as AASHTO, and a broadened mission and membership to include all forms of transportation.
The Post-Interstate Era
The longstanding partnership of AASHO/AASHTO and FHWA built the interstate system during years of achievement and controversy. For more information, see articles in the archives of Public Roads at www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/publicroads/past.cfm (such as September/October 2000, March/April 2006, May/June 2006, and July/August 2013).
The Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987 (STURAA) was widely perceived as the final bill of the interstate era. It authorized $17 billion to finish the interstate system. When STURAA became law on April 2, 1987, 97.5 percent of the system was open to traffic: 41,759 miles (67,205 kilometers) of the 42,797 designated interstate miles (68,875 kilometers).
By then, AASHTO had established the 2020 Consensus Transportation Program in February 1987, headed by Director Charles L. Miller of the Arizona Department of Transportation, to consider the post-interstate era. The goal was to identify a strategy that would enable public and private interests to commit to a redirected program that would meet national transportation needs while clarifying the roles of Federal, State, and local agencies well into the 21st century.
AASHTO’s efforts led to the establishment of a diverse Transportation Alternatives Group to analyze information gathered during the 2020 program and identify alternative national transportation strategies for the future. Thomas W. Bradshaw, Jr., former secretary of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, chaired the group.
In September 1988, AASHTO’s The Bottom Line: A Summary of Surface Transportation Investment Requirements 1988–2020 documented the need for increased and continuing investment in surface transportation. New Transportation Concepts for a New Century, published in December 1988 (and a modified final edition in October 1989), covered the full range of transportation modes. This broad perspective was essential, as the report explained: “It is AASHTO’s belief that each transportation system, each mode, must become more and more efficient for the Nation to reach its competitiveness goals.”
New Transportation Concepts urged the Nation to commit funds to sustain and enhance highways and public transportation. In addition, the publication recommended a two-pronged approach of categorical and flexible programs. The categorical programs “would include a new National Highway System consisting of the Interstate Highway System and a portion of the redefined Principal Arterial System, and major transit systems.” The flexible program involved funds to help State and local officials address “such national issues as urban mobility, suburban congestion, rural access, and links between transportation modes.”
After New Transportation Concepts, the focus shifted to the Transportation Alternatives Group, which released its recommendations in January 1990. Flexibility was the key. The group supported the National Highway System concept, but beyond the routes of national interest, the group recommended that the program should include substantial simplification and increased flexibility and discretion to enable State, regional, and local governments “to more effectively meet specific urban, suburban, and rural transportation needs.” Safety, as well as bridge replacement and rehabilitation, should remain priorities. The Transportation Alternatives Group also endorsed measures to increase system productivity through traffic operations, incident management, and surveillance and control techniques.
With regard to funding, the Transportation Alternatives Group called for the Federal Government to “renew its commitment to a strong transportation program in support of the Nation’s economic health and prosperity.” It supported continuation of the Highway Trust Fund, but in one of the group’s more difficult decisions, it recommended that Federal-aid highway funds should continue to be allocated to the States, thereby rejecting calls from cities for direct allocation of funds.
Now it was up to the Bush Administration and Congress to create legislation for the post-interstate era.
National Transportation Policy
In 1989, President George H. W. Bush appointed Samuel Skinner to be the Nation’s 10th Secretary of Transportation. Skinner had been chairman of the Regional Transportation Authority of Northeastern Illinois, a mass transportation district, where he developed a well-received long-range plan for the region’s transportation needs.
In 1989, Secretary Skinner initiated a plan to develop a National Transportation Policy, including transportation needs through the year 2050. To head the initiative, he chose Deputy Secretary Elaine L. Chao, who had been Deputy Administrator of the Maritime Administration and chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission under President Ronald Reagan, and Federal Highway Administrator Thomas D. Larson. Dr. Larson had helped create the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation in 1970 and served as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Transportation for 8 years. Also, Larson had been active in AASHTO and the Transportation Research Board, serving as president of AASHTO in 1986.
On March 8, 1990, President Bush and Secretary Skinner released Moving America: New Directions, New Opportunities during a ceremony in the Old Executive Office Building. Bush called on the private sector to join Federal, State, and local officials in the effort to improve transportation: “Such a partnership has already built a transportation system that is the envy of the world. And if we work together in this joint venture, America can continue to be the world leader in transportation.”
The emphasis of Moving America was on preserving infrastructure, managing it better, providing a level playing field for transportation choices, enhancing operation through management systems and operational and technological advances, implementing transportation demand management, increasing private sector involvement in financing, providing intermodal and rural connections, and ensuring new capacity for transportation systems.
Although the report did not comment on the National Highway System, one of its strategies was to focus on systems and projects of national significance.
In many ways, Moving America was consistent with AASHTO’s 2020 initiative. However, the most controversial element of the National Transportation Policy was that it proposed shifting some costs to State and local governments. As AASHTO’s then President Kermit Justice of Delaware pointed out, “The road to a sound transportation future cannot be paved with good intentions. It will also take dollars.” Congress considered the AASHTO, Bush Administration, and other proposals for the shape of the post-interstate era. The result was the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA). ISTEA called on FHWA to work with the States to identify principal arterials for the National Highway System, subject to congressional approval.
The legislation also continued interstate funding through fiscal year 1996, largely because of commitments in STURAA to the Central Artery/Tunnel Project in Boston, MA. In addition, the legislation strengthened the metropolitan transportation planning process to give increased authority to local officials for developing the best mix of projects to meet their transportation needs.
President Bush signed ISTEA on December 18, 1991, in Tarrant County, TX, on a State Highway 360 construction site not far from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. He told the crowd, “The future of American transportation begins today.”
After the ceremony, President Bush headed to a nearby hotel to address a special meeting of AASHTO. He urged AASHTO to join with the Department of Transportation in “making sure this money gets to its destination swiftly, gets used wisely, and helps Americans build the foundations for the next American century.”
ISTEA, with many of its concepts emerging from AASHTO’s post-interstate reviews, was landmark legislation that provided the structure of the Federal-aid highway, transit, and safety programs through the next several reauthorization cycles. (See “Creating a Landmark” in the November/December 2001 issue of Public Roads for a more detailed account of the history of ISTEA.)
One Hundred Years of Service
In addressing AASHTO, President Bush was speaking to an organization that worked closely with FHWA to give the American people a superior, flexible transportation network. Its predecessor, AASHO, had helped BPR build the first interstate system--a paved, mostly two-lane U.S. highway network. AASHO and its successor, AASHTO, had helped complete the second interstate system in the form of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Now, it helped shape the post-interstate era.
An Equal Balance
For AASHO’s 50th anniversary in 1964, Federal Highway Administrator Rex M. Whitton (1961–1966), former chief engineer of the Missouri State Highway Commission, wrote: “As a State highway department chief engineer, I fretted more than once about what seemed a slow moving and obstinate Bureau of Public Roads. And as Federal Highway Administrator, I have fretted more than once about what seemed a hasty and stubborn State highway department. . . . Perhaps this is as good evidence as any that the Federal-State partnership is in good balance and both parties are doing their best to work together.”
More than two decades after President Bush signed ISTEA on a cold, rainy day in Texas, AASHTO continues to work with the State transportation departments, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the broader transportation community to, as President Bush put it, create new ways of moving America forward.
One hundred years ago, AASHO helped create the Federal-State partnership that gave the country a highway network that sustains economic development, supports national defense, and is so much a part of the daily lives of U.S. citizens that most people take it for granted. In the 21st century, AASHTO continues to work with its partners to ensure that the U.S. transportation network can meet the new challenges of a changing world.
What has not changed during AASHTO’s first 100 years is its commitment to partnership, the strength of its leadership, and the important role it plays within the transportation community and on Capitol Hill.
Richard F. Weingroff is the information liaison specialist in FHWA’s Office of Infrastructure. After graduating from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in English and completing 4 years in the U.S. Air Force, he joined FHWA in September 1973. As FHWA’s self-appointed “unofficial historian,” he also oversees FHWA’s “Highway History” Web site at www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/history.cfm.
For more information, contact Richard Weingroff at 202–366–4856 or email@example.com.