Super Street Network

 |   |  American Petroleum Reduction - On the Line

American Petroleum Reduction - On the Line

Facing a reduction

Nov 1, 2008 SHARE
Epcp_0811_02_z+American_Roads+graphic Photo 1/1   |   American Petroleum Reduction - On the Line

Think Big
Americans are facing a reduction in available fossil fuels, most notably petroleum, and a need to reduce the usage of those same fossil fuels, thanks to the climate-changing greenhouse gases that are emitted when they are burned. The cost of finding a replacement for fossil fuels will be huge. Fortunately, we have a history of doing big things in big ways.

Imagine for a moment that you were a motorist in the early years of the 20th century. Your Napier, White, Maxwell, Oldsmobile, or Ford automobile sat high above the ground on large wheels that allowed you to traverse the miserable, bumpy, rutted, dirt roads that existed between towns and cities. Although there were already more than 2 million miles of roads in the U.S., they were unmarked and unconnected, being used mostly by farmers who carried their goods to the market. In 1912, any paved road was inside a city limit and only 28 of the 48 state governments had spent money on road construction or maintenance. If you wanted to travel between cities, you took the train.

If the deplorable roads were OK with state governments, they weren't with Carl Fisher. An early motorist, sometimes racing driver, and head of the Prestolite company that made headlight lanterns for vehicles, Fisher had traveled extensively by car in Europe and had come away impressed not only by sophisticated European automobiles, but also the hard-surfaced roads that European motorists enjoyed. By 1912, Fisher and his group of investors had already built the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and had held the first 500-mile race there in 1911. Fisher's experiences and his realization that the American automobile industry was on the brink of an explosion of growth led to his dreams of a transcontinental highway. His position within the industry gave him the credibility so that other industry leaders would listen to his plan. Fisher began a letter-writing campaign, and then formed a group to solicit support for the idea. He had no faith that the government could handle such a project, so he set about to find financing on his own for the highway. In the first 30 days, more than a million dollars of private money had been pledged to build the road across the continent. In 1913, the newly incorporated Lincoln Highway Association held its first official meeting.

The Lincoln Highway Association used the money it raised to survey a route to build so-called "seedling miles," which were mile-long sections of rural paved roads that would demonstrate the concept to a sometimes skeptical public, and to provide materials and know-how to state and local officials so that road construction could begin. The Lincoln Highway Association sparked a demand from the public for all-weather, hard-surface roads, and in 1916 the federal government passed a bill requiring states to establish highway departments and provide matching funds for state highway projects. The Lincoln Highway project got a boost in 1919 when an Army convoy of 79 vehicles crossed the country and proved a need for new and better roads to support military operations. One young officer on the convoy was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who, when he later became the 34th president, signed the Interstate Highway and Defense Highways Act in 1956 that would create America's interstate highway system.

By early 1923, the Lincoln Highway, the unusual combination of private innovation and capital, federal, and state support had created something that 10 years earlier had seemed impossible. Personal automobiles could now travel between towns and cities and an overland migration of labor and talent from east to west made California and the West Coast into the Promised Land for newly mobile Americans. It would take another 15 years before the final section would be paved, and by then the Lincoln Highway name had been replaced with U.S. highway designations, including U.S. 30, U.S. 40, and U.S. 1.

Even though the Lincoln Highway was finished, it didn't signal the end of road building in America. In fact, Eisenhower's interstate highway system, announced in 1954 and begun in 1956, would eventually supplant secondary roads, making long-distance travel even easier and allowing people to work in the city yet live in the suburbs, a move that completely changed the American way of life.

Some have suggested that our response to our present energy crisis should be similar to the '60s moon shot in its commitment-a 10-year technology-based endeavor that the whole country can rally behind and support. Others claim that the Manhattan Project, the four-year scramble to create the first atomic weapon during World War II is a better model to solve our energy dilemma because it implies the same level of response to threats to our national security as we faced during those perilous times. Both projects involved billions of dollars, innovation on an almost unimaginable scale, and the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of scientists, engineers, technologists, and skilled laborers to achieve a single goal.

To address our energy problems today, however, we need a longer-term view. Instead of the flash of a space program or atomic bomb, we need the long-term commitment of innovative and farseeing individuals like Carl Fisher, the resources of a federal government that recognizes problems and solutions, and the courage to embark on enormous projects, like the interstate highway system, even knowing that it will be our children and their children who will benefit from our foresight. The private sector and federal, state, and local governments must work together to find solutions that a whole planet can live with.

Carl Fisher died on July 15, 1939, and never imagined Eisenhower's interstate system, despite the pivotal role his Lincoln Highway had in its creation. President Eisenhower died on March 28, 1969, 22 years before the interstate highway system was declared completed-on September 15, 1991 when the last traffic light was removed from I-90 in Wallace, Idaho. Building the interstate system had taken 35 years and had cost $114 billion. If we can learn anything from history it is that we have to have the patience and bravery to think big and do even bigger, to work for the future, even if we never get to personally see the end result.

SHARE ARTICLE

RELATED ARTICLES

BROWSE CARS BY MARKET

MORE FEATURES

New show pits MLS players against one another in Lamborghinis
Ryan JurneckaOct 22, 2014
Stripped-out interior with carbon fiber seats.
Kelly PleskotOct 22, 2014
Brabus offers performance upgrades for the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class lineup.
Megan StewartOct 22, 2014
Another modified 2015 Hyundai Genesis sedan is being teased ahead of the 2014 SEMA show.
Jason UdyOct 22, 2014
A tiny glimpse into Scion's future.
Kelly PleskotOct 22, 2014

SEARCH ARTICLES BY MAKE/MODEL

Search
TO TOP