Interstate Highway System at Twenty-Five

October 9, 1981

Report Outline
Interstates: The Road Ahead
Growth of Highway System
Current Policy Disputes
Special Focus

Interstates: The Road Ahead

Continued Importance of Highway System

Twenty-five years ago, on Nov. 14, 1956, the first segment of the nation's Interstate Highway System was opened. The eight-mile stretch of road near Topeka, Kan., now has grown into a huge family of odd- and even-numbered highways connecting virtually every major population center in the United States. As of June 30, 1981, exactly 40,438 miles of Interstate highway had been opened to traffic, at a cumulative construction cost of nearly $80 billion.

Many of the older parts of the highway system need to be upgraded to meet current standards, and Interstate segments adding up to about 2,000 miles remain to be built. But many of these segments probably will be canceled for environmental and financial reasons. For all practical purposes, the basic construction of the Interstate system can be considered complete.

The Interstate Highway System's 25th anniversary is being observed with a mixture of pride in past accomplishments and nervousness about the future. One of the biggest public works projects ever undertaken, the Interstate system was started at a time when gasoline was cheap, cars were huge and most Americans were still much in love with the mobility the automobile had introduced into their lives. But by 1972, the year the system originally was to have been finished, many Americans already were beginning to think that the nation's highways had grown beyond all reason. In the mid-1970s, as fuel costs soared in response to price-fixing by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Americans began to turn back to mass transit to get about both within and between cities. This trend accelerated in 1979, the year the Iranian revolution threw the world oil market into further turmoil.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Highways and Roads
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Sep. 11, 2017  Infrastructure
Jun. 06, 2016  Infrastructure
May 04, 2012  Distracted Driving
Sep. 28, 2007  Aging Infrastructure Updated
Oct. 06, 2000  Drunken Driving
Mar. 12, 1999  Truck Safety
Jul. 14, 1995  Highway Safety
Oct. 09, 1981  Interstate Highway System at Twenty-Five
May 05, 1965  Highway Design and Beautification
Sep. 02, 1960  Progress of the Road Program
Mar. 06, 1957  Billboards and Roadside Controls
Dec. 13, 1954  New Highways
Jul. 25, 1939  Prevention of Highway Accidents
May 13, 1935  Elimination of Highway Grade Crossings
Dec. 24, 1932  Federal Highway Aid and the Depression
Apr. 30, 1931  Billboards and Roadside Improvement
Feb. 14, 1929  Toll Bridges and Toll Roads
Jul. 11, 1927  Ten Years of Federal Aid in Road Building
Motor Traffic and Roads