Interstate 70 (I-70) is over 2,150 miles of highway from Cove Fort, Utah, to Baltimore, Maryland, and two hundred fifty miles of this super highway runs right through the middle of Missouri. It appears that Missouri and Kansas can each lay claim to I-70s beginning. The first three contracts were signed in Missouri on Aug. 2, 1956. The first section to be paved was in Kansas on September 26 that same year.
But I-70 is just a piece of the 48,000+ miles of the highway system that criss-crosses the US that was conceived by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during the 1950s. This brainchild was the result of a two-month trip between D.C. and San Francisco in 1919 and Eisenhower’s final months of World War II in Europe.
The first Transcontinental Motor Convoy across the U.S. took place in 1919. Eisenhower had been assigned as an observer and he remembered well the difficulties encountered as the convoy traveled from the White House to Gettysburg, and then on to San Francisco. The trip took two months.
During the final months of World War II, Eisenhower was in Germany and saw the autobahn Hitler had designed. It was a far cry from the historic Lincoln Highway used in America for traveling coast to coast.
Eisenhower took office in 1953, and by 1954 had announced his idea of an interstate highway system similar to the German autobahn. It took a couple of years for Congress to work through the financing, but H.R. 10660 was introduced in the House of Representatives by Maryland Democrat George Fallon on April 19, 1956. This time the bill worked its way through Congress quickly and was signed into law by President Eisenhower on June 29. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 provided $25B for 41,000 miles of highway to be completed in 10 years and was hailed as the Greatest Public Works Project in American History. Some of the first construction began in Missouri and Kansas before the end of the year.
While federal and state governments worked together to iron out the details and do the actual building of the new highway system, cities and towns across America were dealing with the impact these new highways would have on them. Business loops had to be financed and built. Sometimes houses had to be demolished or moved.
In historic Boonville, street names became an issue. The historical society wanted to give historic names to streets that connected to the new super-highway. From east to west, they chose Bingham Road, Boonslick Blvd, and Ashley Road, but this was not acceptable to the community. After more meetings, Ashley and Bingham roads passed, but Main Street remained Main Street.
Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008. She has covered the War Between the States, U.S. history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.firstname.lastname@example.org.