Tennessee´s Celebrates 50 Years of Interstates Today!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006 | 07:00pm

“It has changed the lives of countless Tennesseans.”Nashville, Tenn.—It is the largest public works project in Tennessee and it has helped change the lives of all the state’s citizens. It has helped families stay in touch by allowing them to travel safely and quickly. It has encouraged job growth and economic development, enabling businesses to be founded and to flourish. And it is the pipeline by which we all get the goods and services we need and desire. Tennessee’s interstates and America’s Interstate Highway System celebrate their 50th anniversary today.

“The interstate system has changed the lives of countless Tennesseans,” said Governor Phil Bredesen. “It is difficult to imagine our state without the advantages of our well planned and highly maintained interstate highways. As we move forward, we must focus on providing even better services and infrastructure for this system which is the backbone of our state in many ways.”

June 29, 2006, marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Federal Highway Act of 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower which set the wheels in motion for the development of the national interstate system.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) held four different events around the state today to honor this important milestone in the nation, and the state’s history.

“From I-40 in Knoxville, which was our first section of urban interstate, to Ardmore where we built the first piece of interstate ever constructed in Tennessee, to Overton Park in Memphis, where we actually halted construction, this massive public works project has changed the face of our state,” said Commissioner Gerald Nicely. “We held events in all of these places, and in Nashville today, to honor the commitment and hard work it took to establish this transportation network. But we also want to recognize that it will take at least that much effort to protect our assets, and to meet the needs of the future, especially when working to reduce interstate congestion.”

In Nashville, a crowd gathered at Bicentennial State Park Mall to celebrate the anniversary with giveaways from one of Nashville’s oldest products, Purity Ice Cream, prizes from one of the nation’s largest beverage providers that the interstate system has helped flourish, Pepsi, and gift coupons from a business that has become an interstate staple, McDonald’s. A caravan including transportation officials, and 1950s-era automobiles left the park and drove to Ardmore, Tennessee where a special anniversary marker was unveiled, recognizing the first section of interstate that was built in the state. The sign is located at the Welcome Center on I-65 in Giles County near the Alabama state line.

“This has been an exciting event to be a part of, but this is about much more than a fun celebration and a ride in a caravan,” stated House Transportation Chairman Phillip Pinion. “This day is about helping Tennesseans recognize that we have all got to make a substantial commitment to backing the efforts of our transportation planners if we want our needs and demands met in the years to come through cost-effective management and new technologies.”

Photo of Overton Park Anniversary Marker Photo of Giles County Anniversary Marker
Overton Park Anniversary Marker Giles County Anniversary Marker

Photo of Nashville event Photo of Nashville event
Photo of Nashville event Photo of Nashville event
Photo of Nashville event
Nashville event

Photo of Knoxville Event Photo of Knoxville Event
Knoxville event

One former TDOT employee who helped build Tennessee’s interstate system, and was on hand for the celebration in Memphis, could hardly believe this day was here.

“When we were designing Interstate 40, the word on the street was…we would never have enough cars to fill it up”, said retired TDOT Design Engineer Walter Crump. “Now it seems we just can design and build roads fast enough to keep pace with amount of traffic on the interstates.”

For the past week, a national convoy has retraced, in reverse, the route of the 1919 First Transcontinental Motor Train, an arduous journey of 3,250 miles from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco which included then Lieutenant Colonel Dwight David Eisenhower. Traveling the perilous Lincoln Highway, now the route of Interstate 80, the journey forged in Eisenhower’s mind the need for an interstate highway system. As President, Eisenhower would sign the legislation making the Interstates a reality on June 29, 1956. Today, fifty years to the day later, the convoy arrived in Washington, D.C., where a media event took place near the very same Zero Milestone from which the 1919 convoy departed. For photos of that event, go to http://interstate50th.org/reenactment.shtml

Later this year, TDOT will publish a book about the history of the state’s interstate highways. There are 1,074 miles of interstate highway in the state of Tennessee. For more facts about Tennessee’s interstate system, go to TDOT’s special 50th anniversary web site at http://www.tninterstate50.com/faqs.htm#name.

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