Other nations had their own ongoing development of advanced transportation by vehicles, and some of them – such as Germany, with its Bundesautobahnen (federal expressway) system – had a head start on America. The famous autobahns, first planned in the 1920s and put into high gear by the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, were the world’s prototypical limited-access, high-speed superhighways.
But few developed nations faced the scope of the challenge that faced the United States at the launching of its network of superhighways in 1956.
The system is sort of like a home renovation – 57 years after it was begun, the Interstate Highway System is still undergoing development. One of the current projects has a direct impact on us, as it passes through Marshall County.
Gov. Steve Beshear lauded the highway when he spoke last week at the I-69 Development Conference at the Ballard Convention Center in Madisonville.
“Roads aren’t just concrete and blacktop. They are connections,” Beshear said. “Connections get employees to their jobs, get seniors to the doctor’s office, farmers to the market and the rest of us to wherever we need to go.”
Interstate 69 began with a segment of approximately 350 miles from Indianapolis to Port Huron, Mich., where the Blue Water Bridge carries it across the St. Claire River and joins it with Highway 402 in Ontario, Canada. Final work on that segment, which was first designed as I-69 in 1957, was completed in 1992.
The final version of the route will carry it southwesterly to Evansville, through Kentucky and southward to a merger with I-40 east of Memphis. Then it will turn south and run concurrent with I-55 into Mississippi, turn westward and on through Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, where it will terminate at the juncture of routes form the Mexican border crossing towns of Laredo, Pharr-McAllen and Brownsville.
It will be the first continuous major highway corridor from Canada to Mexico east of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains, and will directly connect Mexico for the first time through the U.S. to the major population centers of eastern Canada.
Even before the wheel was put into use, historians say, humans were creating paths, or following those made by animals, to ease movement. Arguably, the wheel itself had a minor impact – or, at least, an impact that was dozens of centuries in becoming apparent – in comparison to the introduction of widespread motorized personal transporation early 20th century.
The governor is correct in saying, “Good roads help attract new business.” Just as our first major cities and industrial areas were built on seaports and inland waterways or at the intersections of established pathways, just as later growth followed the expansion of the railroads, future growth is going to be strongly aligned with capabilities for ground transportation.
It is true that just as the first bypasses tended to dilute the viability of small cities and towns by spurring commerce in the fringe areas, an Interstate route may suck most of the economic development of a region toward its corridor, leaving outlying areas to struggle.
The alternative is for the entire region to languish, far from the major flow of traffic, much like areas without high-speed access to the Internet.
The opening of I-24 gave our county and the western Kentucky region a link to that major flow of traffic between St. Louis and Nashville. I-69 can rightfully be expected to spur transportation – and consequential growth along its corridor – to new levels.
The Internet gives wide-open access to data and information.
The Interstate gives access to something that may be overlooked in this era consumed with virtual realities, but which in an honest analysis is much more important than anything virtual.