Friday, February 12, 2010
The increasing popularity of Ford's Model T, Americans began asking for good roads. In 1912 there was no system of roads, just trails leading out aimlessly from the settlements drawing people in to do business. With automobile ownership, Americans wanted to go places and see the wonders of their country.
In 1912 J.W. Parmley of Ipswitch, S.D. got his business friends together to get a road to Aberdeen, S.D. 25 miles away. In a few weeks time, the discussion centered around going farther-all the way to Yellowstone Park. They formed the Yellowstone Trail Association, and very quickly they decided to work for one good road from Plymouth Rock to the Puget Sound.
A headquarters for the Yellowstone Trail Association was established in Minneapolis, but meetings were held across the country. Money was raised in local areas through road assessments, given to the association, which lobbied at every level of government for the road which would span the country. In addition, they promoted tourism, provided maps, and marked the route of the trail. It was a real grassroots effort.
We have a section of the Yellowstone Trail in Sunnyside behind the former State Patrol building. It curved out of Sunnyside and connected with the old road that went to Yakima. There used to be another section at Scoon and VanBelle roads. That curved section was taken out for the four-way stop.
Another man in 1912 also had a dream of a coast-to-coast highway. Carl Fisher, whose Indianapolis Speedway was a success, wanted a gravel road from San Francisco to New York City in time for the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915. This would cost about $10 million. To get this money, he urged the automobile companies to give one percent of their profits, reasoning that the more roads, the more demand for vehicles.
Henry Ford would not support this project. Ford believed that the public would never learn to fund their roads if private companies did it for them and private companies would not be able to satisfy the need.
Fisher did get the support of Henry Joy, President of Packard, and Frank Seiberling, president of Goodyear. Henry Joy conceived the idea of naming the road after Abraham Lincoln and getting the federal government involved. He became the prime spokesman for the Lincoln Highway.
Congress passed the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916. In it federal funds were made available to state highway agencies. The Federal Highway Act of 1921 provided funding for two-lane interstate highways and created the Bureau of Public Roads. During the Depression, the BPR created road projects to provide as many jobs as possible.
Roads were marked with colored bands or names on poles beside the routes. Sometimes because several roadways shared a route, a pole might be entirely striped in various colors.
In 1918 Wisconsin was the first state to number its roads. The American Association of State Highway officials' proposal to number all federal highways was approved in November of 1925. Major routes from east to west would be number in multiples of 10. Most of Lincoln Highway became U.S. 30 between Atlantic City, N.J. and Astoria, Ore. Major north-south route numbers would end in 1 or 5. The numbers would be posted on a shield-shaped sign.
In Washington state our roads first had names, then numbers. Pacific Highway became State Road 1, which became U.S. 99. Sunset Highway became State Road 2, then U.S. 10. Inland Empire Highway became State Road 3, a long J-shaped section through rural Washington from Sunset Highway down through Ellensburg, Yakima, Sunnyside, Kennewick, Burbank, Walla Walla, Dayton, Colfax, Rosalia, Spokane, Colville and ending at the Canadian border. Various sections became U.S. 97, U.S. 410, U.S. 295, U.S. 195 and U.S. 395. There were 22 State Roads in 1926. Most side roads were ungraded and ungraveled.
After WWII our road system was inadequate and in need of much repair. It wasn't until the Eisenhower administration in 1956 that appropriations were made available for that. New freeways were built all across the country. More and more Americans traveled and good roads were expected from their government.
Our system of roads and highways is still less than 100 years old. Perhaps we don't have all the problems of automobile travel solved yet, even though our automobiles are wonders compared to the vehicles of 100 years ago.
- Jerri Honeyford, wife of Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside), provides her Across our State column while the couple is serving in Olympia.