100 Years: Tennessee's Interstate System

  • U.S. Senator Albert Gore, Sr. from Tennessee and Congressman George Fallon of Maryland introduced bills in Congress for the construction of the interstate system which was enacted in 1956 as the “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways” often called the Fallon-Gore Act. In honor of the late U.S. Senator from Tennessee, all interstates leading into Tennessee are marked the "Albert Gore, Sr. Memorial Highway."
  • Interstate-65 at the Tennessee-Alabama line was the first section of interstate opened to traffic in Tennessee on November 15, 1958. It set the state on a course of building 1,105 miles of interstate during the last five decades. McDowell and McDowell Construction was the contactor on the 1.8-mile section for $1.3 million.
  • The official ceremony opening the first section of interstate on I-65 in Ardmore, Tennessee was conducted on Saturday, November 15, 1958, at 10:30 a.m. State Highway Commissioner W.M. Leech presided over the ribbon cutting. Construction began in May, 1957 for the “Figure 8” interchange.
  • Interstate-40 is an important transportation lifeline across the nation, so when the I-40 bridges over the Mississippi River in Memphis were completed in October 1973 it provided an important connection for that lifeline. Currently, Arkansas and Tennessee are spending $150 million for the seismic retrofit of the I-40 bridges over the Mississippi in Memphis. The modifications are expected to enable the bridges to withstand a magnitude 7.0 earthquake and remain serviceable.
  • Tennessee has more miles of I-40 within its boundaries than any other state, with 455 miles traveling through 20 counties. I-40 has a total of 2,554.22 miles across the United States in eight states.
  • Tennessee was known as a detour state in the 1920s due to the inability to traverse Monteagle Mountain. In 1923 a road was built across the mountain but it wasn’t until Interstate 24 was built from 1962 to 1968 that travel over the mountain became safe to motorists.
  • The I-55 bridge in Memphis over the Mississippi River is the only interstate bridge in Tennessee on the National Register of Historic Places. There are two bridges nearby that are both of historical significance: the 1892 Frisco Bridge and the 1917 Harahan Bridge.
  • Nashville is one of only four U.S. cities where six interstate legs converge within the city's boundaries: I-65 North and South, I-40 East and West, and I-24 East and West.
  • Due to interstate accessibility to over a third (37) of Tennessee’s 95 counties, Tennessee ranks 6th in the nation in cargo carried by trucks.
  • The interstate system in Tennessee played a vital role our economic growth. In what some have called the largest public works project in our nation’s history, the construction of the 1,105-mile system in Tennessee itself provided jobs for thousands. Interstate 40, a major link across the country, provides access to 20 Tennessee counties.
  • Tennessee is one of the states through which the proposed extension to I-69 will be constructed, creating an interstate that will travel from Canada to Mexico. Designated by Congress as a High Priority Corridor of National Significance, the planned interstate has been described as a North American Trade Route, an International Trade Route, and a NAFTA Corridor.
  • The largest private employer in Tennessee is Wal-Mart, with more than 32,000 employees. It depends greatly on Tennessee’s accessible interstate system to its stores. FedEx, UPS and US Xpress together employ 45,900. These courier services also depend heavily on the Tennessee interstate system. Other major employers that depend on Tennessee’s Interstate system to maintain their national commerce are Kroger and Nissan.
  • Tennessee’s state park system, which includes 54 parks, relies heavily on accessibility to the interstate system. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the country, is within easy drive of the interstate system.

One of the largest missing segments of Interstate 40 is in Memphis, Tennessee. The original federal highway legislation passed in 1956 which mapped all the routes for the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways included the section of I-40 through Overton Park.  The federal highway administrator approved the route through Memphis in 1966. The Tennessee Department of Transportation acquired right-of-way in 1969 from the City of Memphis, which owned the park, for $2 million. Approval for the project was announced in November 1969. A group called the Citizens to Preserve Overton Park filed suit to stop construction of the interstate through Overton Park. On March 2, 1971, the case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of the citizens’ group in Citizens to Preserve Overton Park vs. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402, (1971). Several miles of interstate were actually built within the I-240 loop and are currently still in use as Sam Cooper Boulevard.