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The Road to a Nation: How the Interstate Highway System Transformed the American Lifestyle


First Place Winner: Suleimaan Waheed

Correlating to the ideals of the 1950s, the Interstate Highway System not only spawned anew generation of flexibility and fun, but also forever changed our nation. When President Eisenhower signed into law a new highway system, he had no idea of the great potential that the new network harnessed. Today, this vast web of interlocking infrastructure encompasses nearly 47,000 miles, enough to circle the world twice over. However, few Americans realize the great benefits we have enjoyed as a result of the interstate system. From rural diners to Capitol Hill, people from all walks of life use the interstate system in their daily routines. The Interstate Highway System has always played a significant role in American society, and will always continue to do so.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had dreams of American immensity and greatness as a young soldier in World War I, championed the creation of the Interstate Highway System. When first established, the interstate system was expected to carry out the seemingly impossible task of linking and unifying the vastness of America. Nevertheless, with the help of the automobile, this new network allowed for greater contact among all American. All major cities and regions were now connected; in fact, by using 1-80, one could even travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Another consequence of the interstate system was one of economic prosperity. Because the interstates connected most of America, virtually all goods and services could be transported more efficiently and at a lower cost. For the first time, Americans were able to realize the beauty, diversity, and magnificence of their beloved nation. After 35 years and $144 billion, President Eisenhower's dream was realized. The Interstate Highway System had unified America, and ushered in a new era of prosperity.

Today, few Americans realize the enormous impact the Interstate Highway System has made on their lives. Without the ease and efficiency that interstates provide for manufacturing and shipping, many products that we Americans enjoy would not be readily acceptable. The television we watch every day and the food we regularly enjoy would become rare privileges if it were not for the highway system. Many long-distance outings, from a trip to an amusement park or to Grandma's house, are traveled upon interstate paths. In fact, the suburban lifestyle that many Americans enjoy today can be credited to the interstate system. By linking rural areas to downtown cities, the Interstate Highway System allows American residents to efficiently travel between jobs and schools in the city to their homes in the suburbs. Also important to note is the security that interstate systems provide for Americans. Highways are used to protect civilians from disaster and dangerous situations. Most recently, interstates played a prominent role in the Hurricane Katrina situation, as they assisted in the evacuation of New Orleans and saved countless lives. Eisenhower's highway system has today become an integral part of the American lifestyle.

Looking to the future, even with the promised new technology and infrastructure, the Interstate Highway System will undoubtedly play a significant role in the lives of Americans. With the suburbs expanding ever outward, Americans will rely upon the interstate system even more. The rapid and uninterrupted transportation offered by the interstate system is certainly compatible with the technological age of the future. When the interstate system is properly meshed with other resources, such as computers, it will be possible to eliminate some of the problems that have befallen the interstates. For example, computer sensors could force cars to remain a certain distance from each other, thereby solving the problem of rush hour traffic jams. Also, with the arrival even faster and safer cars, it may be possible that the interstate system replace the already struggling airline industry in terms of providing long-distance travel. Still, there is a new problem with interstates that must be addressed in the future. Strapped for money, state governments are increasingly turning to private firms to manage and toll highways. And with expanding suburbs, the cost of maintaining highways is increasing. At this current pace, not only will it will cost much more to travel interstates in the future, but funds for new interstate construction will shrivel. For the Interstate Highway System to remain a viable asset for future generation, it is imperative that the government take steps now to reduce cost and invest in future highway construction and technology.

President Eisenhower best summed up the impact of interstates on America when he shared this quote, "Together, the united forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear-United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts." As residents of America, we should all acknowledge and appreciate the tremendous influence the Interstate Highway System has had in our lives. Indeed, by uniting America and revolutionizing the American lifestyle, the interstate system is of great accomplishment Still, there is great potential possessed by this system, and much for future generation to be excited about When traveling with my family for summer vacation, I will salute the interstates for what they have become: a quintessential symbol of America.