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Major issues are brought to the table

In signing the highway bill of 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower made more money available to state highway departments during the four years that followed than in the 40 preceding years. The federal Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) and state highway departments were gearing up for a phenomenal growth spurt.

William A. BuggeAt the 1957 Mississippi Valley Conference, American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) president William Bugge spelled out what he considered to be the main issues facing state highway departments. With the staggering implications of the new program, Bugge stressed the need to evaluate each state’s organizational structure and provide career stability to attract sufficient engineers to do the job. He felt that the highway departments must depart from tradition and employ consulting engineers to help level off the peaks in the design load.

Bugge cited an article in the American Road Builder Newsletter that predicted that the concepts of limited access and bypasses were so radical that state legislatures would not pass enabling legislation, meaning many of the states would have to pass up the 90 percent federal funding for interstates and use their funding for regular 50-50 match projects.

Also in 1957, Bugge spoke to the Western Association of State Highway Officials. In that speech he emphasized that states must step up and continue the initiation of projects. He noted that the federal government was not capable of running a vast highway program, even if it wanted to. The onus was on the states to come through with appropriate legislation, planning and employee development.

With such a radical plan, acquisition of right of way was going to become a major issue as 75 percent of the interstate was to be built on new alignment. Clifton Enfield, BPR’s general counsel, noted in a speech to the American Right-of-Way Association in 1957 that right-of-way acquisitions during the next 13 years would exceed the total of such actions for highways in history. He stressed that since the function was so new, whole new disciplines and concepts would have to be developed. New legislation would have to be enacted, standards developed, appraisers hired and trained, etc… and it all would have to be done quickly. He said the very nature of right-of-way acquisition by eminent domain would result in litigation, a field new to the state highway departments, but they must be prepared for it.

With the underlying issues being brought to the table and discussed around the country, some practical matters were being resolved. On Aug. 17, 1957, the interstate numbering sign policy and procedure was presented at the AASHO Committee on Administration. More than 100 designs were considered, and the now-familiar shield was selected. The sign measured 36 inches high by 36 inches wide for two-digit routes, and 45 inches high/wide for three-digit routes.

Naming conventions had been established years before during the planning stages of the system, with two-digit interstate highways numbered according to direction and location. Highways running north-south are odd-numbered and those running east-west are numbered evenly. The lowest numbers are in the west and south. Three digit numbering was reserved for beltways or loops attached to a primary interstate highway.


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