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Public Roads - Summer 1996

Editor's Notes

Editor's Notes

This issue of Public Roads focuses on three anniversaries of special interest to the "highway community." The interstate highway system has its 40th birthday on June 29. The 80th anniversary of the establishment of the federal-aid highway program is July 11. And, in Detroit, the 100th anniversary of the automobile is being celebrated with parades, antique car shows, and other festivities during the Automobile Centennial Week, June 17-23.

The impact of motor vehicles and modern highways on the American way of life over the past hundred years is almost incalculable. Just a cursory consideration of this impact brings to mind the incredible effects on jobs - including the creation of thousands of new industries - and on residential and societal patterns, and on "quality of life." Cars and good roads in the United States have created the most mobile society in the history of the world, and this mobility is a defining characteristic of the American society and the American psyche.

Everyone wants to be able to go when he wants and where he wants. As I commute about 56 kilometers to work in northern Virginia using the high-occupancy lanes of Interstate 95, I see the primary lanes of the highway clogged with single-passenger cars. Why do these folks choose to use the most expensive mode of long-distance commuting and to put themselves through the aggravation of the I-95 traffic jam? Obviously, some must drive alone, but for most ... God forbid they should not have their car available to them absolutely all of the time.

In my four-person family (with two daughters, 23 and 19 years old), everyone "has to have" his/her own car. And if you don't think that the choice of an automobile reflects the owner's personality and self image, then you just aren't paying attention to the world around you, and you certainly haven't been car shopping with a 19-year-old daughter recently.

The influence of highway transportation on our culture is reflected in our poetry, art, and movies. In "Poetry of the Open Road," "Artists Look at Roads," and "Road Movies," we take a look at these cultural impacts.

The interstate highway system - its creation, its condition, and its recognition as an engineering marvel - is the main focus of this issue. The interstate system epitomizes the concept of the open road - unfettered mobility, freedom, and speed. "The Edge City" is a phenomenon created by the interstate system.

The interstate system is a product of an 80-year-old partnership of state and federal officials, and this partnership was created by the "Federal Aid Road Act of 1916," which established the federal-aid highway program.

Most Americans cannot remember a time without interstate highways, but I can remember traveling the "old roads" between Oklahoma and Pennsylvania each summer when I was a child. We avoided traveling through St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Columbus, Ohio, during rush hours, and we thought we were in heaven the first time we were able to go around those cities on the interstate bypasses.

The changes in transportation over my lifetime amaze me, but I am looking forward to an even more unbelievable future. Part of that future is being demonstrated in the "Atlanta Showcase" of intelligent transportation systems, and part of that future is represented by the Automated Highway System (see the next issue of Public Roads). The future is bright!

Bob Bryant