Highway milestone

By Robert Lake
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The Interstate Highway System celebrates its 50th anniversary this year – one of the most important transportation developments in history.

The Eisenhower Interstate System is important to not only those of us who make our living in trucking, but also the American way of life. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said the creation of the system “did more to bring Americans together than any other law of the last century.”

Mineta spoke at a ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the 50th anniversary, the first event of a coast-to-coast trip ending on June 29, the date President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 into law.

Here are some facts and myths about the history of the Highway System from the Federal Highway Interstate homepage (website):

Myth: One out of five miles is straight so airplanes can land on the interstates.

Not true, although it’s widely thought that President Eisenhower included this as a requirement in the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. Sometimes airplanes have landed on Interstates, but there’s nothing in the law that says this is required.

Fact: There was once a movement to change the speed and distance signs into metric.

In the 1970s, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) considered converting highway signs, such as speed limit signs, to metric units of measurement. After the proposal was made public, the agency received more than 5,000 comments, about 98 percent of which were negative. The idea was dropped.

Fact: States are responsible for their own potholes.

Contact the state transportation department and let its maintenance officials know of the problem.

Myth: It’s the law that slower traffic stays to the right.

Although the left lanes of multi-lane freeways are widely viewed as the “high-speed lanes” or “fast lanes,” the speed limit applies to all lanes on any given street or highway. The intent is that vehicles going slower than the posted speed limit should stay to the right.

Fact: Interstates are safer now than ever before.

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Over the past 50 years, the Interstate System has done much to make highway travel safer and more efficient. Relative safety is measured by the “fatality rate” (fatalities per 100 million miles traveled, a measure used so data can be compared as traffic volumes change). The Interstate System is the safest road system in the country, with a fatality rate of 0.8 – compared with 1.46 for all roads – in 2004.

So congratulations to the Interstate Highway System, a remarkable achievement that we all can be proud to share. And remember; don’t pick the wildflowers on the medians. As tempting as it may be, it’s illegal in most states.

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