The Age of Highway Planning

Another major theme of the postwar period was highway planning and highway building. The period after the war witnessed an enormous amount of suburbanization accompanied by massive increases in automobile ownership, as noted in Chapter 2. Coincident with the suburbanization of population was the suburbanization of economic activity. As a consequence of the changing distribution of economic activity, there was also a significant increase in the importance of truck transportation relative to rail transportation in the carriage of both intra- and intermetropolitan freight. Because of these pressures, one metropolitan region after another moved into large- scale highway planning. The first and possibly best known of these was the Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS).

The postwar period also saw the building of the Interstate Highway System, which, measured in physical terms, is the largest engineering project in the history of the nation. The idea, as noted, is of Depression-era vintage, but work did not begin until after the passage of the National Defense Highway Act of 1956. Most of the system was constructed in the 1960s and 1970s. By the end of the 1980s, only a few links remained to be completed. The system, about 40,000 miles in length, has been a major force in reshaping the nation, largely, one suspects, in ways unanticipated by its planners. The transportation planning process is described in Chapter 12, and the Interstate Highway System is discussed in more detail in Chapter 17.

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