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H is for highway

In The Cow Path (1895), New Hampshire poet Sam Walter Foss writes how long ago a calf made a path through the woods. The path became an animal trail, followed by human travellers, then horses and wagons until:

The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street;
And thus, before we were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare.
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

As we travel along ancient cow paths now, we seldom appreciate what went into creating the highway system.

In 1806, money was appropriated to build America’s National Road, extending from Cumberland, Maryland, to the nation’s interior. The panic of 1837 to 1840 curtailed appropriations for the road which extended through Ohio and Indiana into Illinois.

It was not until the early 20th century and the advent of the motor car that the true value of roads became appreciated. The 1912 Post Office Appropriation Act and the 1916 Rural Road Act accorded federal funding to the National Road. The 1925 Federal Highway Act provided federal aid for the construction of the numbered federal highway system, and the National Road was incorporated as US Route 40, one of the first new interstate highways.{{image2-A:R-w:220}}

Tourists travelled the motorways, stopping at waysides to eat, shop and sleep. A new generation of travel and entertainment facilities was created to meet their needs, eg petrol stations, restaurants, motels, cabins and drive-in theatres.

After the Second World War, deterioration of the highways and the realisation that they are critical for national defence lead to the passage of the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act that created the Interstate Highway System, and pushed new highway construction standards.

On 2 August, 1956, Missouri was the first US State to award a contract for work on the Interstate system (Interstate 70, then US 40). East of the Rocky Mountains, much of Interstate 70 follows US Route 40.

By 1991, the Interstate System was 99 per cent complete with a length of 58,172 rural kilometres and 10,294 urban km of highway. Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon, Colorado, which opened on 14 October, 1992, was one of the final pieces of the Interstate system to be completed.

The Interstate Highway System launched an unprecedented demand for aggregate. USGS Bulletin 1594 (1988) gives approximate values for tonnes of aggregate used in highway and secondary road construction. Applying those values to the Interstate Highway System, and assuming that all the Interstate was of four lane construction (an obvious underestimation), construction would have required 2.9 billion tonnes of aggregate.

From 1956 to 1991, 1.2 million km of non-Interstate highways and 740,298km of secondary paved roads were also constructed, consuming 18 billion tonnes of aggregate. In that period, 32 per cent of US aggregate production was used for highway construction.

By itself, Interstate 70 used 150 million tonnes of aggregate – not bad for an old cow path.

h-wa (noun) – There ys a dyfference bytwypte an hyghe waye and a bypathe, for the hyghe waye ys large and commune to all …
(The Myroure of Oure Ladye, 1530)

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