National Defense and the U.S. Interstate Highway Act of 1956
David J. St. Clair, David St. Clair

The U.S. Interstate Highway System was created in 1944, but construction was stalled by disputes over funding and urban route locations. The 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act resolved these issues. It also changed the name of the Interstate System to the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. National defense figured prominently in lobbying and national defense continues to be cited by historians as a compelling justification for the Interstate System and for the greatly expanded federal role in highway construction. This paper critically evaluates the defense argument for the Interstate Highway System. It concludes that the defense argument does not stand up well to close scrutiny, and that if defense had indeed been a paramount concern, the Interstate Highway System would have had a very different configuration from the one enacted in 1956.

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