Since the advent of the car a highway system has been on the American mind, a system and project so grand that it has become the marvel and symbol of America. This national system was made a reality in 1959 with the signing of the US Interstate Highway Act. To simplify the bill it paid for 90% of highway construction and wasn’t completed until the 1990s. But highways are large pieces of infrastructure so what actually happened to the areas that they were put in, and what can we do to improve them.
First, we must identify the issues with the system. The major issue with the system is that rural-style highways were built in city’s, these highways were built too wide and without access to alternate modes of transportation. These created car exclusive designs that disincentivized walking, biking, and public transportation. Another major issue is that the highways are massive, many times being one or two city blocks wide. When the highways were built they went straight through neighborhoods and cities demolishing thousands of buildings in every city. Many times highways were purposely built to hurt and destroy poor and minority communities.
Now with an understanding of these issues, what can we do to fix the system? One of the best ways to fix the interstate highway system is the removal of many highways. There are dozens of highways throughout the United States that could merit removal or rerouting. This could be because of their lack of use or because it may be better to route them through less populated areas. Removal of certain highways can rebuild or reconnect communities. We also must improve many of our highways so that they can become usable for other forms of transportation such as rail, pedestrians, and bikes. Simple improvements like this can make the highways more useful and more sustainable. Some cities like Akron and Baltimore have opted for full removal of unused highways or highways and disrepair, while cities like Seattle have opted to reroute their highways. Specifically, in the case of Seattle, they moved their highway underground to open up the Seattle waterfront. These projects show the necessity for the improvement of the current interstate system and show that these improvements are possible.
By: Wittman Sullivan