Our recent journey from Michiana to Dallas to Spring Island, S.C. to Baltimore and back covered about 4,100 miles, and nearly 3,400 miles of it was almost exclusively on Interstate Highways, thanks to the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Ike as a young Army Officer in 1919 participated in a very difficult and lengthy cross-country convoy from Washington, DC to California, essentially traveling all the way on the original Lincoln Highway. The purpose of the convoy was to determine the durability of the military vehicles to make such a journey, but it was very lengthy and resulted in numerous equipment breakdowns.
There is a very good book about the Lincoln Highway written by Michael Wallis and Michael S. Williamson and entitled THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY: Coast to Coast from Times Square to the Golden Gate. It covers the road through each state it crossed with fascinating stories and many interesting pictures.
In subsequent duty as the Commanding Officer of the Allied Expeditionary Forces during World War ll, Eisenhower became intrigued with the German Autobahn system. This interest and the experience of his cross-country convoy years before led him to establish, support, and promote The Clay Commission recommendation for the country’s highways. That ultimately led to Congressional backing for a 41,000 mile system to be paid for by a $0.01 increase in the fuel tax, which was deposited into a Highway Trust Fund. That initial program cost $25 billion, and was completed by 1969. The federal government paid 90%, and the states matched 10% of the total.
Today there are over 160,000 total miles in the Eisenhower Interstate System, thus we only traveled about 2% of this wonderful highway system. When you see the volume of semi truck travel, you realize the significant value the highway system has to our national distribution system, and potentially our national defense should the need develop. We were struck, too, by the numerous trucks with “wide-loads” delivering huge new parts and equipment all across the South. Obviously, some businesses are prospering and conducting a lot of commerce during this economic slowdown.
It has been interesting to note too, the large number of individual drivers far exceeding the posted speed limits. While I have been known to hedge 70 mph to 75 mph, there are many individuals cruising well over 80 mph, and there was little or no indication of police issuing tickets. No wonder there are frightful accidents, because at that speed there is precious little time to react and avoid a collision. We viewed a frightful accident on I-55 just north of West Memphis, Arkansas. There was a helicopter removing the injured, and at least twenty police cars, bodies in the road, and cars totally destroyed. Fortunately, the accident was northbound, we were southbound. Cars and trucks were at a total stop for at least 5 miles behind the accident. Surely, someone was killed, and all for what seemed to be excessive speed.
We also witnessed numerous individuals talking on their cell phones, and we even saw one person reading a book as he drove down the Interstate. According to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System of the National Highway Transportation System Agency, 37,248 individuals died in automobile crashes in 2007, and that number has been essentially flat each year since 1996. That represents a horrific loss of lives, and unnecessary financial expense. Just think, that annual number is roughly equal to ½ the attendance at one Notre Dame home football game. There were more than 6.1 million police reports of motor vehicle collisions in 2005, but fortunately only 1% resulted in injuries. We can thank the 50 state laws requiring seat belts for that low statistic.
Something as simple as obeying the laws of the highway could, and would reduce the number of fatal crashes, but there are always some individuals that think they can beat the statistics or system. Speed kills, and still the failing automobile industry continues to run exciting advertising stressing speed. The current commercial for Jeep is, in my opinion, unconscionable, because it portrays young people speeding recklessly over sand dunes, dirt roads, stream of water, etc. Shameful, but all the car companies promote speed when they should be suggesting gasoline conservation.
Fortunately, our journey has benefited from the substantial reduction in the gasoline prices. We saw $2.08 per gallon, and I bet the Arab oil producing nations are going nuts. I predict they will do something to get the price of oil back to higher levels soon.
We have seen substantial indications of economic growth and stability across the southern states. Yes, times are tough, but not as tough as they are in the rust belt. I find it very interesting to see the concentration of foreign automobile manufacturing plants in the southern states, which has a huge flow-through to other support businesses. Effective economic development is paying off big time in the southern states.
Drive the speed limit, and live for another wonderful day. Your life would be a terrible thing to waste just to save a couple of minutes.