2014 Writing Contest: 100 Years of Change: Once upon a time...Before TV!

Second Place Essay

Interstate Highways: America's Turning Point

Amanda Whalen, Upper Arlington High School, Upper Arlington, OH, Teacher, Mr. Scott Shinaberry

The past 100 years have seen vast advancements in technology that have improved the lives of Americans across the country. Without effective transportation, however, obtaining materials used to produce many of the products that we enjoy would be very difficult. Thus, in order to maintain economic development in this modern age, efficient transportation is a necessity. The interstate highway system has saved lives, enhanced national security, and facilitated personal mobility, and by returning $6 in economic productivity for every $1 it cost, the interstate highway system has allowed the economy to flourish (Cox and Love, 1996, p. 2).

Although interstate highways were originally intended for the purpose of evacuating cities and moving troops and supplies in the event of a foreign invasion, their economic benefits were soon realized.  No longer are people confined to live in overpopulated cities because of their work. Suburban communities sprouted up on the outskirts of cities, and homeownership expanded. This new access to mobility increased employment,  since  people  were  less  restricted  by  distance  (“Impact,”  2009). Additionally, increased mobility offered shoppers a wider range of options. This increased competition in the American marketplace, resulting in more options and lower prices (Cox and Love, 1996, p.9).

Interstate highways have not only facilitated the transportation of people; they have also made for cheaper  transportation of freight. According to research performed for the National Research Council’s  Transportation Research Board, 70 percent of the nation’s freight was transported by truck rather than by rail. This is significant because the price per pound of freight is eight times higher when carried by rail rather than by  truck according to a Transportation Research Council special report ( TechnicalMemorandum Task 2, 2006, p.53). This lower cost of transportation reduces the input cost for producers. The lowered input cost increases aggregate supply, lowers prices, and stimulates economic growth.

In addition to facilitating the movement of freight, there is evidence that highways have led to economic development in rural and underdeveloped areas. For example, I-16, which runs from Savannah to Macon, Georgia, has increased the population in Laurens County Georgia by 40 percent and employment by 100 percent (Technical Memorandum Task 2: The Economic Impact of the Interstate Highway System, 2006, p.51). Similar results were seen with the I-43 Corridor in Wisconsin and the I-81 Corridor in Virginia. Both highways increased employment and stimulated economic development.

In spite of the benefits, there are several unintended consequences that have come out of highways. Pollution and urban sprawl are among the commonly cited costs. Additionally, there is a major opportunity cost in our highway system and the manner in which our country has developed. While highways are effective, it is certainly possible that mass transportation could be faster and more efficient. However, due to the way in which highways have caused America to develop, the implementation of a train or subway system to further connect the country would require a complete restructuring.

Despite the negative consequences, America’s economy and structure would be much different today without the development of an interstate highway system. By increasing demand for houses and cars and increasing supply by lowering input cost for consumers, highways have proven to be an essential part of America’s modern economy.