Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Building I-29

During the 1950's, when the Interstate was being built (I-29), the road workers and their families needed places to park their trailers. Mom and Dad rented some of their land for this. My parents became friends with many of them. These photos show two of the trailers they lived in by our house, one with my sister Sharon standing in front of it.

I've included at the end of this post a brief and fascinating history behind the interstate system in general, and why it was built. It wasn't only for transportation of civilians, but as an important part of our national defense. Our section near the border was one of the first built for that very reason, being seen as a strategic location...

From North Dakota Highways:

North Dakota native Ryan Fischer shared the following information...
I-29 has a very peculiar history. Its first stretch was completed in the late 50s from Drayton to the Canadian border, making it among the earliest sections of Interstate highway built from scratch. Why it was built so early in such a sparsely populated part of the country baffles everyone I know from back home. Ahhh, the U.S. government...[NOTE from Trish - see bottom of this post for a VERY good reason why - defense of the country in strategic locations]
Some history...
I-29 was built along the US-81 alignment across much of extreme eastern North Dakota. The segment from the Canadian border to Drayton was opened as a 2-lane, undivided alignment in the late 1950's, as an upgraded segment of ND-44. By 1975, I-29 was compete as far south as Walcott. The entire highway in the state was completed by 1977.

In early Interstate highway plans from 1957, only the Fargo to Pembina segment was planned, and this was to be designated as I-31; I-29 was reserved for the current alignment from Sioux Falls, SD, to Kansas City, MO. On October 18, 1957, the Bureau of Public Roads recommended an interstate from Fargo to Sioux Falls. North Dakota officials requested in February 1958 that the planned I-31 designation be changed to I-29, and federal officials approved.

If you look at 70s era Rand McNally road maps, you will see that the section from N.D. 5 to the Canadian border is marked "Two Lanes." While the overpasses were built and right-of-way was established for the divided, four-lane highway, this section of I-29 functioned as a two lane freeway until the late-70s.
National Interstate and Defense Highways Act (1956)

Popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 established an interstate highway system in the United States. The movement behind the construction of a transcontinental superhighway started in the 1930s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed interest in the construction of a network of toll superhighways that would provide more jobs for people in need of work during the Great Depression. The resulting legislation was the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1938, which directed the chief of the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) to study the feasibility of a six-route toll network. But with America on the verge of joining the war in Europe, the time for a massive highway program had not arrived. At the end of the war, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944 funded highway improvements and established major new ground by authorizing and designating, in Section 7, the construction of 40,000 miles of a "National System of Interstate Highways."

When President Dwight D. Eisenhower took office in January 1953, however, the states had only completed 6,500 miles of the system improvements. Eisenhower had first realized the value of good highways in 1919, when he participated in the U.S. Army's first transcontinental motor convoy from Washington, DC, to San Francisco. Again, during World War II, Eisenhower saw the German advantage that resulted from their autobahn highway network, and he also noted the enhanced mobility of the Allies, on those same highways, when they fought their way into Germany. These experiences significantly shaped Eisenhower's views on highways and their role in national defense. During his State of the Union Address on January 7, 1954, Eisenhower made it clear that he was ready to turn his attention to the nation's highway problems. He considered it important to "protect the vital interest of every citizen in a safe and adequate highway system."

Between 1954 and 1956, there were several failed attempts to pass a national highway bill through the Congress. The main controversy over the highway construction was the apportionment of the funding between the Federal Government and the states. Undaunted, the President renewed his call for a "modern, interstate highway system” in his 1956 State of the Union Address. Within a few months, after considerable debate and amendment in the Congress, The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 emerged from the House-Senate conference committee. In the act, the interstate system was expanded to 41,000 miles, and to construct the network, $25 billion was authorized for fiscal years 1957 through 1969. During his recovery from a minor illness, Eisenhower signed the bill into law at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on the 29th of June. Because of the 1956 law, and the subsequent Highway Act of 1958, the pattern of community development in America was fundamentally altered and was henceforth based on the automobile.