The Interstate Turns 50

Today the U.S. Interstate Highway system celebrates its 50th birthday. A nationwide network of roads had been envisioned since the at least the 1930s, but it was the Cold War that provided the necessary political impetus for the ambitious network to get off the ground. And on June 29, 1956 Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act.

Initially, the system was intended to cover 40,000 miles of road, including 2,000 miles of existing toll roads. Today there are 46,837 miles in the national highway system, including 261 beltways, ushering millions of commuters from the suburbs and exurbs to work. These miles constitute only 3% of all roadway miles in the U.S. but they transport 8 times more vehicles than all other U.S. roads.

Media stories about the horrors of a crumbling system have marked the today’s anniversary. ABC reported that,

“Traffic jams, which annually cost the nation $200 billion in lost productivity, suggest that repairs and expansion of the system are long overdue.”

I’m not sure that $200 billion of traffic jams suggest that we need to repair and expand the system. It seems like we’ve already created an expansive system and that the results speak for themselves. In the last 50 years, we have increased the number of miles that each person drives annually by 271%, and we have 237 million vehicles on the road, nearly one car for every American of driving age.

I know we can do better. More cars! More roads! More traffic! But you’ll have to tune in tomorrow for the rest of statastico’s story about the future national highway system, including a bizarre twist ending …. But for now, here are some statastics with delicious lime-colored Smart car graphics.

Vehicles per Person & Miles Driven Annually

*Including passenger and commercial vehicles, there are currently an estimated 237,000,000 vehicles in the U.S. today.
#In 1956, 168,903,031 Americans drove 626 billion miles annually. In 2006, 299,092,260 of us drive approximately 3 trillion miles annually.