Congress authorizes the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Eventually, I-35 and I-94 link urban and rural Minnesota, while metropolitan multi-lanes connect suburb with city, home with work and shopping.*
To understand the largest infrastructure project in American history that began construction on August 13, 1956, one needs to backtrack to the beginning of President Eisenhower’s career. The young Eisenhower observed a convoy of vehicles and made study of their 56 day journey across the breadth of America. These findings pointed to the necessity of an efficient road system for the benefit of American citizens, their businesses, and for our military and national defense.**
Eisenhower’s goal spanned several administrations, numerous studies, and various iterations before it could be fulfilled. The timeline below shows some of the major steps.
1922- General John J. Pershing established the the first defensive network using existing roads. It became known as the “ Pershing Map”.
1938- President Franklin Roosevelt gives a hand-drawn map of eight proposed superhighway corridors to Thomas MacDonald; head of the Bureau of Public Roads. Macdonald’s study of these corridors is refined by Herbert S. Fairbank into the first practical study of the interstate highway system entitled “Toll Roads and Free Roads”.
1944- The “ Federal Aid Highway Act” authorized construction of a system approximately forty thousand miles, but did not provide funding.**
1952-1954- President Eisenhower tapped General Lucius D. Clay and the Clay Committee to develop the interstate highway plan. This lead to standardizations of materials, techniques, and designs. It sought to connect all metro areas in the United States with populations exceeding 50,000 people. It also necessitated a Federal Tax on gasoline which provided about 90% of the hefty $25 billion price tag. ($1092B in today’s dollars.)
So now we have a snapshot of what happened nationally, but how did this epic construction project impact Minnesota? We in the Twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul became a very important crossroads for vacationers, and commerce. Interstate 35 connects Duluth, Minnesota and the harbor on Lake Superior with a primary north-south artery of the system connecting with Loredo, Texas; a massive 1556 mile (2504km) corridor. We are also home of Interstate 94. This critical road connects the eastern branch of the Great Lakes in Port Huron, Michigan and terminates in Billings, Montana some 1585 miles (2551km) later. It’s the primary east-west branch of the Interstate system for the northern portion of the U.S.
Now we turn from history-past to addressing our G-d who lives and reigns in the Eternal Present. We remember You, Adonai, and just a few of the ways You made a way and a road for the nation of Israel. I recall how often the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah spoke of roads.
“And the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field.” Isaiah 36:2 ESV
“A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3 ESV
“And it shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.” Isaiah 57:14 ESV
“Go through, go through the gates; prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway; clear it of stones; lift up a signal over the peoples.” Isaiah 62:10 ESV
“Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” Jeremiah 6:16 ESV
“But my people have forgotten me; they make offerings to false gods; they made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient roads, and to walk into side roads, not the highway,…” Jeremiah 18:15 ESV
“Set up road markers for yourself; make yourself guideposts; consider well the highway, the road by which you went. Return, O virgin Israel, return to these your cities….” Jeremiah 31:21 ESV
“In those days and in that time, declares the LORD, the people of Israel and the people of Judah shall come together, weeping as they come, and they shall seek the LORD their God.
They shall ask the way to Zion, with faces turned toward it, saying, ‘Come, let us join ourselves to the LORD in an everlasting covenant that will never be forgotten.’”
Jeremiah 50:4-5 ESV
Let us sit awhile with You, and remember that You are the Lord of Logistics. (Sorry we forget about Your miraculous relocation of the nation of Israel: out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through incredibly arid and dangerous climes. Oh, and with the most formidable army in the world in pursuit!? When there is no way, there is Yah’s-way!) You make us alive, and have given every creature some mode of transportation that suits them. Yet, You care about things as practical as our Interstate system in little “flyover” Minnesota. Again, what say You about the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956?
We thank You for the epic dreams of our forbearers: General Pershing, FDR, Mac Donald, Fairbank, and General Clay! Acknowledging their planning and administration, we thank You for the tens of thousands of men and women who realized this vision. We praise You for the music of heavy machinery doing good work: excavators, backhoes, bulldozers, graders, dump trucks, loaders, and rollers! We remember all of those who burned up in the summers, worked in muddles in the spring rains, and froze in the winters. They got the job done, and did it well! We applaud them and Your approval of their efforts begun in 1956!
Our state is more secure in it’s defenses because they laid this road! Our economy is vastly improved because of the increase in interstate trade, and the reduction of the price in transportation costs to the end user of virtually every product or food; some years have seen a 35% increase in local economies because this system exists! Our people have enjoyed the pleasure of freedom of movement: they have seen more beauty through camping and RV travel, they can visit family across the US in a few days, and they do so in safety with easy navigation!
Yet, my mind moves to the spiritual and relational impact of our Interstates. How does this network of roads impact us past? We acknowledge to You the pride of colossal construction. Where have we offended You in this?
To commence, we see the temptations unique to our citizens that come with great freedom. Because it is possible to see more, do more, and trade more; we have too often taken the bait. We have not exercised self-control in our transportation businesses, to and from work, or even on vacation. Something deep in us drives us beyond a reasonable stopping point. Will You take these attachments and idolatries both past and present-tense up, out, and onto the Cross of Christ?
Next, I pray about our ease of movement and its’ disruption of our connection to Your land. How many human and creaturely lives were disrupted because I-35 crossed their paths? How many farms were cut in half? How many animals found their pathways to food or water blocked? How many neighbors were bifurcated by this road eating at least a 272ft wide path through their neighborhood?
Granted Lord, change is neither necessarily good nor bad, but I remember this fact to You; something whole was split in two. For some good reason, You saw fit to give us a yearning for home. Humans everywhere desire a place unique to them and their families. It just seems that the more we move, it may have tainted our desire to stay.
Do we look to “the open road” myths because our hearts have detached from our homes, our friendships and marriages, and inwardly from even ourselves? Do we bustle about to expand the territory of our businesses because we cannot stop on our inward scenic overpass, take in a breathtaking view of our accomplishments, and say “I’m good.”?
Lord, as this fabulous Interstate System is a metaphor for connection, there are are a few declarations I want to pronounce with You over this epoch. By the Cross of Christ, by the Blood of Christ and His Resurrection, and by the Eternal Word I want to declare my agreement with You, Isaiah, and Jeremiah over the entire “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways”, from 1956 to the present, and into Your eternal now to ‘join ourselves to the LORD in an everlasting covenant that will never be forgotten’. May the detached coasts inside be connected! Reknit the neural pathways of our minds, drive us to new habits, and bathe us in new ways of thinking! Be the defender of our hearts against evil, and help us take in the beautiful, the good, to put the rag-top down and go crusin’ with You!
*P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
The Minnesota Historical Society Web site, http://www.mnhs.org, is fantastic! Check it out! Images are from https://images.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl; again, an amazing resource!
** Infrastructure Explained.“The History of the Interstate Highway System”. Internet. You Tube. October 5, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7n6g1ypx1PE
See it in writing? “Transcript of National Interstate and Defense Highways Act (1956)” http://api.mnhs.org/mgg/words/html/custom/highway_act.html
Feel like watching? Check out this reliable source from TPT (Twin Cities Public Television) https://www.tpt.org/interstate-94-a-history-and-its-impact/