Road stories

Expertise, Politics and Highways in the U.S., 1960-2000

In 1956, the United States allocated about $25 billion to the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, a project that had grown from planning exercises in the late 1930s1. Congress gave control of the project to federal and state highway officials, continuing the American pattern of entrusting leadership for construction and highway policy to road engineers, especially to the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR, now the Federal Highway Administration). It is ironic, then, that at the pinnacle of their influence, the process of building the Interstate system eroded the engineer's influence and leadership. The resulting loss of trust in expertise ushered in an openly politicized policy process, with significant consequences for transportation development in the United States.