Skip links

The Evolution of the Modern Highway From Trains to Trucks

H&M Bay got their start in the late 20th century, when our founders Walter Messick Jr. and Lawrence Hayman founded H&M Transport. In 1986, H&M Bay’s service to Los Angeles and Seattle meant that the national interstate system became an integral part of the company’s success.We here at H&M Bay are inspired by the dreams of many which resulted in the technological advancement of the interstate highway system.


For truck drivers, 1-90 stretching from Washington to Massachusetts takes first place as the busiest interstate. In 2020, the American Trucking Association found that registered truckers completed a total of 302.14 billion miles. Combination trucks completed over 177.26 billion miles in the same year. The average truck driver drives approximately 125,000 miles a year. This is almost nine times the mileage a normal driver covers in a year. Prior to the development of the interstate system, it took General Eisenhower 1919’s cross country expedition 62 days to travel from coast to coast. Today, truck drivers can travel from coast to coast in around 45 hours, just around two days. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s regulations ensure that drivers are “allowed to drive a maximum of 11 hours following 10 consecutive hours off duty”. Regulations also state that they may not “drive after 60/70 hours on duty in seven/eight consecutive days”.

The History of Roads

The history of roads begins a multitude of centuries ago with the oldest existing roads found in present-day Iraq. These roads in the former Mesopotamia date back to 4000 B.C. Centuries. Centuries ahead of European and American roads, they were paved with stone, made of mud bricks and set with bitumen. In Europe, the modern construction of roads found its roots in the early 19th century. Under the engineering of Scottsman John McAdam, they laid the foundation for modern road development. Across the world in the United States, the existence of the modern highway did not come about for decades later.

The Interstate System

The history of the interstate system in the United States originated under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. President Roosevelt directed the chief of the Bureau of Public Roads, through the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1938, to research three east-west and three north-south transcontinental highways. After the report was finalized, President Roosevelt recommended a plan of action to Congress. He detailed the need for “[a] special system of direct interregional highway, with all necessary connections through and around cities, designed to meet the requirements of the national defense and the needs of a growing peacetime traffic of longer range”.

Interstate Highway Growth

The 1939 New York World’s Fair showcased “Futurama”. The exhibit imagined a futuristic technological road network which helped to “popularize the concept of interstate highways”. Then the eruption of the second World War postponed the physical interstate development. However, research continued to be done through the National Interregional Highway Committee.

The Interstate Highway and American Politics

In 1945, the Public Roads Administration (PRA) and the American Association of State Highway officials (AASHO) developed uniformity standards for the interstate system. In 1952, for the first time, the Federal-Aid Highway Act authorized $25 million in funds specifically dedicated to interstate constructions. Under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1954 authorized $175 million towards the interstate system. President Eisenhower emphasized the importance of national highways in a letter to Congress. He wrote “our unity as a nation is sustained by free communication of thought and by easy transportation of people and goods…together, the united forces of our communication and transportation are dynamic elements in the very name we bear- United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts”. He then created the President’s Advisory Committee on a National Highway Program, nicknamed the “Clay Committee”, which outlined an interstate system program that would help to finance and design the interstate highway system. The following year, “The Yellow Book”, formally known as the General Location of National System of Interstate Highways, was published. The book contained maps of the interstate system as well as the future planned urban interstate roadways.

Construction of the Interstate Highway

Construction of the infrastructure continued to be funded by Congress for the next few decades. By 1990, President George Bush signed legislation into place changing the system name to the “Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways”. The name honors President Eisenhower’s dedication and accomplishments with the interstate system. The creation of the national interstate system transformed the American economy, creating jobs, opening access to rural areas, and drastically improved trade transportation.

The Interstate Today

Today, California’s highways are those most traveled in the United States, followed by the great state of Texas. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation found that people drove over 84.7 billion miles in California. They put the magnitude of these miles in perspective stating that those miles equate to “over 900 times the distance from Earth to the Sun”. The Golden State’s I-5 is typically the busiest interstate in the country, with over 21.4 billion miles in 2011. Fellow California highways 1-10 and 1-110 follow in the rankings. In the Lone Star state, drivers traveled over 55.7 billion miles on the state’s interstates. Florida and Ohio’s interstates follow with 34.69 billion miles and 31.39 billion miles respectively.

Leave a comment