Building the Highways
Funding the Interstates
The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 provided federal funding to cover 90 percent of the cost of construction for what was known officially as the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. President Eisenhower insisted that the program pay for itself. Rather than a series of toll roads, Congress established the Highway Trust Fund. Money collected from gas and other vehicle taxes was deposited and issued from the fund to pay for the federal share of the roadways. Individual state highway agencies would be asked to pick up the tab for the remaining 10 percent and coordinate construction of the highways within their borders.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials created design standards for the Interstate Highway System to ensure vehicle safety. The standards included controlled access to the roadways, 12-foot-wide lanes, 10-foot-wide right shoulders, bridges with 14 feet of clearance, design speeds of between 50 to 70 miles per hour depending on terrain, and a minimum of two lanes for each direction of traffic.
Connecting the Country
Fifteen years after President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, over 32,000 miles of Interstate roads were open to traffic with another 4,000 miles under construction. Most of the major highways were completed during the 1980s.