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National System of Interstate and Defense Highways: As of June 1958, map by the Automobile Association of America (AAA), 1958

This 1958 interstate-highway map shows improvements to be completed over the next quarter century. The 1956 Federal Highway Act converted many two-lane state roads into superhighways for emergency evacuation and military transport as well as for commerce and commuting.

 

AAA, used by permission; Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress

National System of Interstate and Defense Highways: As of June 1958, map by the Automobile Association of America (AAA), 1958

Federal Highway Act of 1956

In his 1956 State of the Union Address to Congress, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called for “legislation to provide a modern, interstate highway system.” Within months, after considerable debate, Congress passed the Federal Highway Act of 1956. It authorized the extension of highways nationwide in one of the largest public works projects in U.S. history. Interstate highways made travel and commerce more efficient. They also provided key routes for evacuating urban centers—a critical national defense issue in the Cold War era.

The interstate and defense highway system has been one of the best federal projects we have ever seen in terms of opening up commerce, industry, and opportunity and personal freedom for Americans.

Senator Steve Symms of Idaho, 1991