The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways

The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways

Earl Swift

Language: English

Pages: 375

ISBN: 0547907249

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


“Travelers hitting the highways this summer might better appreciate the asphalt beneath their tires thanks to this engrossing history of the creation of the U.S. interstate system.”—Los Angeles Times

Perhaps nothing changed the face of America more than the creation of the interstate system. At once man-made wonders, economic pipelines, agents of sprawl, and uniquely American sirens of escape, the interstates snake into every aspect of modern life. The Big Roads documents their historic creation and the many people they’ve affected, from the speed demon who inspired a primitive web of dirt auto trails, to the cadre of largely forgotten technocrats who planned the system years before Ike reached the White House, to the thousands of city dwellers who resisted the concrete juggernaut when it bore down on their neighborhoods.

The Big Roads tells the story of this essential feature of the landscape we have come to take for granted. With a view toward players both great and small, Swift gives readers the full story of one of America’s greatest engineering achievements.

“Engaging, informative . . . The first thorough history of the expressway system.”—Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

“The book is a road geek’s treasure—and everyone who travels the highways ought to know these stories.”—Kirkus Reviews

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but it came as a jolt, nonetheless. This wasn't some little country bridge. This was an interstate. Bringing the system into full repair, and keeping it there, will cost us dearly. One federal study suggested that all levels of government should spend a combined $225 billion a year for the next fifty years to rehabilitate surface transportation. They're currently spending just 40 percent of that, in a country that does 96 percent of its traveling by car and truck. What's at stake, ultimately,

2001). [>] Crossing a street ...: Martin Melosi, Garbage in the Cities: Refuse, Reform and the Environment (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1981); and James J. Flink, The Automobile Age (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988). [>] So it was that in October 1893 ...: America's Highways; Mertz; Richard F. Weingroff, "Portrait of a General: General Roy Stone," http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/stone.cfm (accessed July 2, 2010). [>] Of Carl Fisher's many adventures ...: Both the Jane

racing and toured county fairs much as they had on bikes. Automobile technology was advancing quickly, now. The spindly, tiller-steered horseless carriage, often steam- or battery-powered, was giving way to beefier models propelled by throaty gasoline engines. Speeds leaped. One of Fisher's favorite schemes was to bet he could outrace a horse in his automobile, over the course of a mile; he let the locals provide the horse and even give it a quarter-mile head start. The horse would tear off to

ran north-south, not east-west. Others protested that the highway would create a "Chinese Wall" dividing Baltimore in half. Moses had little patience for such trifling worries. Sure, the road would put nineteen thousand people out of their homes, but "the slum areas through which the Franklin Expressway passes are a disgrace to the community," he wrote, "and the more of them that are wiped out the healthier Baltimore will be in the long run." As for the talk of a Chinese Wall, well, that was "an

and 'the conduct of life.'" But if Mumford did, in fact, teeter at the brink of irrelevance in August 1957, he took a decisive step back from the precipice on September 11. His remarks in Bloomfield were the first publicized attack on the year-old interstate program, and an opening salvo in what would come to be called the Freeway Revolt. They made Mumford a darling, to this day, of urban planners, anti-sprawl activists, and critics of the suburban lifestyle. He went straight for the jugular on

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