Federal Highway Act of 1956


The act that funded the sprawling interstate highway system that crisscrosses the United States today.

The Federal Highway Act of 1956 authorized what was then the largest public construction project in U.S. history and ensured America’s reputation as the most automobile-dependent society on earth. Even so, passage of the legislation involved intense political battles that dated back decades and became caught up in the cold war politics of the early 1950s.

Federal highway legislation before and during World War II recommended the construction of interstate highways but allocated no special federal funding. A 1952 highway act authorized $25 million in federal funds on a 50-50 matching basis with states. By the time President Dwight D. Eisenhower took office in 1956, more than 6,200 miles of interstate highway had been constructed. Eisenhower’s military experience had made him a champion of modern highways. In 1919 he served in the U.S. Army’s first transcontinental motor convoy, and as a World War II general he was impressed by Germany’s autobahns. But several political issues stood in the way of

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