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Largest Motor Road Increase Accomplished in Present Year

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Largest Motor Road Increase Accomplished in Present Year

The New York Times
December 10, 1922

Practically 10,000 Miles of Good Highways Added to National System, Reports Public Roads Bureau—Eliminating Grade Crossings.

Greater progress has been made in providing the means of highway transportation during the fiscal year 1922 than in any similar period in the history of the country.  That is the opening statement of Thomas H. McDonald, chief of the Bureau of Public Roads, in his annual report just presented to the Department of Agriculture.  It is encouraging alike to all good roads advocates and motorists who make extensive use of the public thoroughfares for recreation or commercial uses.  Practically 10,000 miles were added to the Federal-aid road systems and probably another 10,000 miles by the various States without Federal help.

"There is now apparent," says Mr. MacDonald, "a real public appreciation of the importance of maintaining the roads that are built."

The Federal Highway act, approved a year ago on Nov. 9, 1921, provides for the establishment of a system of public highways the mileage of which shall not exceed 7 per cent. of the total highway mileage in any State.  The act requires the division of the highways into primary or interstate and secondary or intercounty highways and limits the expenditure of all Federal-aid apportionments to this system.

The selection of 7 per cent. of the roads of the nation for future systematic improvement imposed the most important task upon the bureau ever assigned to it.  Conferences were held with highway officials in order to secure correlation of the roads suggested for the State system.  Tentative maps have been received showing the systems proposed from all States except Alabama, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia and Wisconsin.  The first general conference of the States in a field district was held at Troy at which the tentative systems were correlated for all of New England, New York and New Jersey.

On the subject of road building activity some encouraging facts are presented.  At the close of the preceding fiscal year projects completed aggregated 7,469 miles and there were 17,978 miles under construction, which were estimated as 50 per cent. complete.  In one year the completed mileage has grown to 17,716 miles, an increase of more than 10,000 miles, and there still remain under construction 14,513 miles which are estimated as 56 per cent. complete.  The Federal aid earned by the States on completed and uncompleted projects amounts to $194,560,135, of which $166,911,552 have actually been paid.

"The roads brought to completion during the year," it is stated, "average more than 200 miles for each State.  The greatest increase in completed mileage is in Texas, which added during the year 933 miles.  But Texas owes its leading position largely to its size.  The States of Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota and North Carolina, each with an increase of more than 500 miles, and Montana and Wisconsin, with more than 400 miles, made notable advances toward the goal of a completed highway system.  A number of smaller States, such as Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, made very substantial increases."

Mr. MacDonald says that mileage alone conveys no adequate sense of the far-reaching effects of the work being done.

"The 10,000 miles," he explains, "represent something more than the equivalent of three transcontinental roads.  They are not transcontinental roads.  They are not even connected roads, though as the work continues they will be connected; but each separate project is to some community a new opportunity, a means of bettering, in some respects, the economic and social status of the community, and together they form the links which, eventually united, will constitute a new means of transportation, no less important to the country as a whole than that offered by the railroads.

"What they mean to localities in which they are constructed can only be told by example.  For example, there is the Federal-aid road from Helena in Arkansas to Old Town, seventeen miles away, on the Mississippi.  When, last Spring, the river rose and threatened to spread over the whole of that low country in Arkansas in a destructive flood, word came to Helena that the levee at old town was about to break.  A few hours' delay and thousands of acres of rich farming land would be flooded.  Every available motor vehicle was pressed into service and over 600 men, equipped for the work ahead were in a short time speeding over the new road to the levee.  They arrived in the nick of time and dammed back the rising waters.  There is no question in the minds of the people of Old Town and Helena about the value of the new Federal-aid road.

"Out in Arizona there is another road that is drawing near to completion.  It will connect Superior and Miami, two of the largest and most important towns in the copper country.  By the old road the distance between them is a full hundred miles.  The new road, tunneled in places through solid rock, will shorten the distance by 80 miles.

"In Alabama plans have been drawn for a new Federal-aid project between Arlton and Clayton.  The old road between these towns, which are twenty-five miles apart, crosses the railroad fourteen times in that distance.  By a piece of excellent engineering thirteen of these crossings have been eliminated and the one remaining is not dangerous.

"In Maryland there was one curve on the road from Baltimore to Washington so deadly that it was known as 'Dead Man's Curve.'  It was what is known as a reverse curve; there was a heavy grade, and high banks obscured the view from both directions.  Hundreds of automobiles had been wrecked because of this curve and there was a record of 35 deaths charged against it.  The dangerous condition has now been eliminated by the State with Federal aid, and though it was necessary to spend $17,000 in less than a quarter of a mile, none of those who use the road need to be convinced of the wisdom of the expenditure or the value of the improvement."

As a means of reducing the number of motor vehicle accidents on grade crossings, the bureau has adopted a policy to eliminate dangerous crossings wherever practicable on Federal-aid roads.  The policy, which has met with the generous support of the States, is that all existing grade crossings on the Federal-aid highway system shall be classified for priority of elimination by agreement between the bureau and the State Highway Departments, and the improvements shall be carried out as rapidly as practicable.

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