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The Interstate Highway System: A Discussion of Its Merits & Shortcomings

The Interstate Highway System
Posting Access:
All Members , Moderated

This community is dedicated to the discussion of the Interstate Highway System in the United States. One of the most comprehensive infrastructure developments in human history, the U.S. Interstate Highway System has undoubtedly had both positive and negative effects on American cities, towns, and the farming landscape.

Starting officially in 1956 with the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 and ending in the early 1990's, the national Interstate Highway System has cost American taxpayers over $114 billion in construction costs alone. The federal government and every state with an Interstate highway (all except for Alaska) still spend billions of dollars per year on highway maintenance, repair, and occasionaly, new projects. For example, in the state of Michigan, whose Department of Transportation budget for 2006 is about $3.4 billion, only $200 million of this goes towards public transit and the rest goes to highways. (This is about 17% for transit, 83% for highways.)

Any American could tell you the joys and hassles of the Interstate. Cruising from city to city late at night with nothing but music to keep you awake. Sitting in traffic jams in 90 degree weather for hours. Stopping at truck stops to eat diner fries and drink coffee. Construction zones that seem to last for days. Anyone that drives a car in modern America knows the world of white lines, drive-thrus, speed traps, roadside assistance, mileage signs, and on-ramps.

On the positive side, the Interstate system has made city-to-city travel and long-distance travel by car much quicker, theoretically eliminating the need to stop at a traffic signal from Key West, Florida to Seattle, Washington. When traveling by car, the Interstate is a very quick way to get from point A to point B. Also, millions of tons of cargo are carried from city to city or from farm to city each day, making the Interstate an integral part of commerce in the States.

On the negative side, the Interstate system has done much to accelerate sprawl in U.S. cities, both weakening core urban communities and destroying valuable farmland on the periphery. Smashing through cities in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, Interstate highways such as the Cross-Bronx Expressway (I-95, I-295, US-1) helped to create unlivable urban places and to augment the growth of the post-War auto-suburbs. Highway-driven sprawl has also helped establish big-box chain stores as the dominant form of commerce in America because of their cookie-cutter design and adaptability to quickly-growing auto-suburbs.

A few questions addressed in this community include:

+How can cities benefit from demolishing, preventing, or minimizing the effects of highways? Examples include Milwaukee, San Francisco, Boston, and Portland, OR.

+If Interstate highways do accelerate sprawl, and sprawl is undesirable, should the Interstate system be moved in a different direction? Or maybe even abolished entirely?

+Should mass transit endevours (like light rail trains) be integrated with the Interstate system? How would this be feasible? An example is Chicago's Skyway integrated with the CTA Red Line "L" train.

+Is too much money being devoted to repair and maintenance of the Interstate Highway System when it could be devoted to other, arguably more constructive, transportation causes?

While this community is definitely intended to be critical of the Interstate Highway System in how it effects cities, towns, and countrysides, this is also intended to be an open forum for discussion. Any comments and topics involving the Interstate Highway System are welcome.

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