Theodore Brown Jr.: Sen. Albert Gore Sr.'s Role in Creating the Interstate Highway System

Roundup: Talking About History

As one of your subscribers and as a former staff member of the late U.S. Senator Albert Gore Sr., D-Tenn., I feel compelled to share with your other readers a more complete account of the creation of the Interstate Highway System than that which is provided in Logan Thomas Snyder's"Broader Ribbons Across the Land," in your June issue.

Although it is true that President Eisenhower in February 1955 recommended the creation of a transcontinental highway system, the Interstate Highway System as we know it today was largely the product of Senator Gore, in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Works, and his very able administrative assistant, William G. Allen.

Senator Gore differed with Eisenhower primarily on how initial construction should be financed and on how ongoing maintenance should be funded. Congressional Republicans, with Eisenhower's backing, wanted a $101 billion, 10-year program financed primarily by bonds, with state and local governments paying more than 70 percent of the cost. Gore foresaw that placing such a respon-sibility on state and local governments, especially those whose postwar economies were already financially strapped, would be both unrealistic and overly burden-some and that the result would be a crazy-quilt system of roadways, with well-constructed, well-maintained highways stopping at some state lines and giving way to poorly constructed, badly maintained roads in adjoining states.

Senator Gore favored federal funding of nearly 70 percent of the cost with an initial appropriation of $17.9 billion over five years. The balance would be paid for by increased gasoline taxes and levies on right-of-way purchases by gasoline stations and motels. Gore also favored the creation of a pay-as-you-go Highway Trust Fund, financed from special taxes on gasoline, diesel, tires and truck regis-trations, to ensure that proper mainte-nance of the entire system would not be reliant on the uncertainties of future governmental appropriations.

In May 1955, the U.S. Senate rejected the Eisenhower administration's plan in favor of Gore's. The negotiated result, which came a year later, was the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which reflected the financing and trust-fund features that were developed by Senator Gore and his assis-tant, Allen. Indeed, in recognition of the leadership provided by Senator Gore in crafting the final measure, Eisenhower gave instructions that the senator receive one of the two pens he had used to sign the land-mark legislation into law on June 29,1956.

Theodore Brown Jr. Atlanta, Ga.

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