On October 1, 1940 America’s first superhighway opened -The Pennsylvania Turnpike

October 1, 2013

Remember yesteryear

On October 1, 1940 America’s first superhighway opened -The Pennsylvania Turnpike
Pennsylvania Turnpike

A model of America’s new form of superhighway was displayed at the General Motors Highways and Horizons Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York City World’s Fair. The new turnpike was visualized to be a different form of highway in America, but similar to Germany’s 100-mph autobahns, built to serve the needs of the users rather than controlled by the terrain.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike officially entered service October 1, 1940, exhibiting new concepts of superhighway design and demonstrating that revenue bonds could finance toll roads. Planners predicted that 1.3 million vehicles would use the turnpike each year, but early actual usage was 2.4 million vehicles, sometimes as many as 10,000 vehicles per day were recorded.

When the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened for business on October 1, 1940, it was just 160 miles long stretching from Carlisle to Irwin. It included two-lane tunnels at Laurel Hill, Allegheny, Ray’s Hill, Sideling Hill, Tuscarora, Kittatinny and Blue Mountain. Rapidly increasing traffic volumes, far surpassing anything anticipated by early Turnpike planners, soon made the two-lane tunnels obsolete and prompted consideration of by-passing or “double tunneling” the seven original tunnels.

President Harry S. Truman was in the White House when the Carlisle to Valley Forge extension opened on November 20, 1950 to usher in the expansion decade. Extensions from Irwin to the Ohio Line and from Valley Forge to New Jersey soon followed. But the Northeastern Extension, from Montgomery County in the south to Scranton in the north, was the longest of the expansion projects crossing some 110 miles.

By the 2000 decade, the original 160-mile route was expanded to 514 miles, carrying 156.2 million vehicles a year at a toll of just over 4.1 cents a mile. In the engineering design of this highway, utmost attention has been given to the drivers’ safety and comfort.

Source: The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission

Video: Futurama 1939 New York World’s Fair “To New Horizons”


Pennsylvania Turnpike

Pennsylvania Turnpike

Pennsylvania Turnpike

Pennsylvania Turnpike

Pennsylvania Turnpike

Pennsylvania Turnpike

Pennsylvania Turnpike

Pennsylvania Turnpike

Video: Pennsylvania Turnpike

Video: 1953 – Pennsylvania Turnpike Tunnels

Video: 1954 – State of America’s Infrastructure in the 1950’s before the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System Transportation bills of the 1950’s

Federal-Aid Highway Act

President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1954 on May 6, 1954, surrounded by the congressional leaders who had drafted the legislation. It authorized funds for the regular Federal-aid highway program through FY 1956, plus $175 million a year for the Interstate System. Reflecting the importance of the Interstate System, Congress increased the Federal share of Interstate project costs from the usual 50 percent to 60 percent. In signing the legislation, the President said, “Our highways badly need modernization and expansion to accommodate today’s vastly increased motor traffic.” When he added, “This legislation is one effective forward step in meeting these accumulated needs,” no one knew of the additional aggressive steps he would take to meet those needs.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956.

The United States’ Interstate System has been called the Greatest Public Works Project in History. From the day President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, the Interstate System has been a part of our culture—as construction projects, as transportation in our daily lives, and as an integral part of the American way of life.

Audio of President Dwight D. Eisenhower speaking about America’s highway bill in 1956

Source: United States Department of Transportation

Interstate Highway

I HAVE TODAY SIGNED H. R. 9821, the “federal Aid Highway Act of 1958,” which authorizes increased federal assistance to the States for the construction of roads and highways. I approve this bill with serious misgivings because of certain of its provisions which I regard as grave defects. Some of them could even create unfortunate precedents that may be difficult to disregard in the future.

The principal factors influencing me toward favorable action are three. The first is the desirability of speeding up construction of our badly needed system of Interstate Highways, as was proposed in recommendations I recently submitted to the Congress. The second is the hope that in the acceleration of work on this system and on the other federal-aid highway programs some impetus may promptly be given to public and private efforts to increase employment. The third is the temporary character of what I believe to be the faulty provisions of the bill; only because these are not permanently contemplated can I give my approval to this legislation.

Important progress has been made in the development of an improved and enlarged highway system under the Highway Act of 1956. Under this Act and related legislation, federal expenditures for public roads will approximate 2.3 billion dollars in fiscal Year 1959. This is over half a billion dollars more than in the present fiscal year and two and one-half times as much as in fiscal Year 1957.

The expansion and improvement of our roads and highways have been major factors in the development of our economy and will continue to be so in the years ahead. Nevertheless, the defects to which I refer seem to me to be so serious that I am constrained to invite special attention to them in the hope they will be completely eliminated in future legislation.

The first and most important of these defects is the violation of the long established principle of a 50-51 sharing of Federal and State costs of federal-aid highway programs other than the Interstate System. H.R. 9821 substitutes, in the added program authorized for this year, a two to one ratio for this long established principle. I deplore the possibility that some may try to use this departure from a sound arrangement as a precedent for emulation. This I would resist.

The second defect is the provision for federal advances to State governments to finance most of their one-third share of the cost of the additional primary, secondary and urban highway construction authorized by this legislation. Here again we could create a damaging precedent for the future.
I would oppose any repetition of these or similar provisions in subsequent legislation.

In another part of the bill, the Congress has constructively endeavored to encourage the States to regulate advertising along the Interstate System. This provision of the bill should be clarified and strengthened so as to provide a clearer basis for administrative standards. Certain exceptions which might permit advertising to go unchecked in some areas should be removed. Moreover, the act provides that incentive payments to encourage States to regulate advertising shall be furnished from general tax revenues rather than from highway user tax revenues which constitute the Highway Trust fund. This is inappropriate and should be corrected by subsequent legislation.

It will be necessary for the Congress in its next session to return to the subject of highway legislation in order to provide funds for the enlarged federal assistance under this Act. Its action at that time should accord with the sound principles that established the Trust fund as a means for keeping federal-aid highway expenditures on a self-sustaining basis.

Interstate Highway

Interstate Highway


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