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United States Highways, from the Literary Digest 1927 Atlas of the World and Gazeteer, Funk and Wagnalls Company, New York, 1927.


Road, an open highway for the passage of vehicles. The noun, road, is akin to the verb, ride, and indicates that the road is to be distinguished from the footpath. [...]

So far as quality is concerned, America has not been famous for road building, but, in point of quantity, a plea may be entered. During the three centuries of white occupancy, over 2,151,000 miles of road have been constructed - enough to follow the equator around the globe eighty-six times and a lap over. About 40,000 miles are paved or are surfaced with stone, over 100,000 miles are surfaced with gravel, and about 10,000 miles have been surfaced with special materials. [...]

One of the first steps toward better roads is the organization of districts large enough or at least long enough to include an entire road. Local road building is a failure. This was demonstrated in England at an early day. The enormous freight traffic carried on by the carters between York and London kept the roads in a mire that the local parishes could not mend. It was necessary for the government to take hold of the matter. Likewise, in this country, it is not only impracticable, but unfair, to expect local communities to keep main thoroughfares in order.

A second step that should be taken is the payment of road taxes in money instead of labor. It is all well enough for the first settlers, men without money, to get together for a day or two to build roads; but such a system is primitive and does not result in good roads. Money, too, expended judiciously under competent supervision, will do in ten years more to provide creditable roads than a century of the system of "working out" a road tax under which one-half of those called have no heart in the work and the other half are impatient to be at home plowing corn.

More time and money should be spent in preventing roads from getting into bad condition. An ounce of gravel by way of prevention is better than a pound of cure thrown into a later mud hole. It is not enough to build roads. They must be watched. A man, a cart, a horse, and a gravel pit kept busy all summer are worth five times as much toward maintaining good roads as the same amount of expenditure crowded into a hurried week between corn planting and corn plowing.

Methods of road building must differ in different localities. In all soils it is necessary to take the water away from the road by drainage, or take the road away from the water by elevating the roadbed. It is useless to build a road without first providing for a dry roadbed. Standing water and traffic will reduce any soil to a quagmire. The first step toward building a permanent road is a system of permanent drainage. Tile drainage is apt to prove most satisfactory. Ordinarily a tile laid along under one gutter with an occasional twenty-foot cross spur will be sufficient. Drainage of this sort is not expensive nor is it hard to lay. The chief difficulty lies in securing a proper outlet.

Next to drainage comes grading. Most roads are too wide. The narrower the roadway, the needs of traffic and the passing of teams provided for, the easier it is to keep a road from soaking full of water. The surface should be rounded slightly to shed water. Ruts should be filled as fast as they form. Here is where a caretaker on the road for the season gets in his best work. Instead of allowing water to stand in ruts and soften the road bed, he prevents ruts from forming and keeps his road dry; for a well built, well hardened road turns water like the roof of a barn.

THE GOOD ROADS MOVEMENT. The movement in the interest of good roads in the United States is of comparatively recent date. The bicycle and the automobile have been important agents in creating the sentiment for better roads, but until recently the great majority of farmers have opposed increased taxation for improving highways. But the economic value of good roads has been so clearly demonstrated by the United States Department of Agriculture and the state agricultural colleges that the farmers now realize that money expended for good roads is money wisely invested. A good road enables the farmer to market his produce at much less expense and at the same time when it will sell at the highest price.

In 1913 the Department of Agriculture organized the Office of Public Roads. At first the assistance of the department was limited to the "good roads train," which was in charge of competent road engineers and equipped with the best road-making machinery. The train visited all parts of the country, stopping at important rural centers where a short piece of road was made. The coming of the train was advertised several days in advance so that those interested might be present to learn what they could from the demonstration. In 1914 Congress appropriated $25,000,000 a year to be divided among the states for the improvement of roads, and the Sixty-fifth Congress (1917-1919) contracted to expend $266,750,000 within the next three years. This sum was to be apportioned among the states in accordance with the amount each state appropriated for improving highways. By this plan, eventually $535,500,000 will be expended in improving the highways of the country.

Rural communities are realizing that road making requires a good degree of engineering skill, and state colleges offering courses in road engineering. The old road district is becoming a thing of the past and the roads are passing under the control of the county, the state or nation.

NATIONAL HIGHWAYS. The United States builds and maintains the roads in the national parks. Besides these the government has constructed only one national road, the Cumberland Road, extending from Baltimore, Md., to Vandalia, Ill. A national highway has been projected to connect all the national parks, and a movement has been started to construct an international road from Winnipeg to the Gulf of Mexico. A number of highways of national scope are being constructed by the respective states through which they pass. The most important of these are:

Lincoln Highway, a road extending from Newark, N. J., to San Franscisco, California. The road was named for Abraham Lincoln. Its length is 3,331 miles and it is the longest road in the world. Beginning at Newark, N. J., the route extends southwest to Philadelphia, thence westward across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. It passes through Pittsburgh, Mansfield, Joliet, Council Bluffs, Omaha, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City and Sacramento. A branch extends from Cheyenne to Denver, and another extends from Reno to Carson City. Markers at frequent intervals identify the entire route.

Dixie Highway. This is a surfaced road extending across the United States from north to south. Beginning at Mackinaw, Mich., two routes extend along each side of that state and cross Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, uniting at Chattanooga. Thence the route extends through Georgia, touching Atlanta and Macon, to Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Miami, Fla. A branch connects Chicago and Indianapolis. It is expected that this highway will increase automobile travel between the North and the South, and encourage the building of better roads in the states that it crosses.

From The National Encyclopedia for the Home, School and Library, Vol. VII., National Encyclopedia Company, Chicago, 1927.
Rev 2000-02-18 [Return to Diary]