The Federal-Aid Road Act of 1944 mandated construction of an interstate highway system. More than a decade later, only a fraction of the roads had actually been constructed because of the expense. In 1956, the combination of a more populous and mobile nation, and President Dwight Eisenhower’s recognition during World War II of the importance of a highway network to mobility and defense, prompted Congress to provide the funding to construct an interstate highway system.
After failed attempts at legislation and significant wrangling between the two chambers, the House and Senate agreed to fund the construction of a “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways” with the establishment of the Highway Trust Fund. Revenue generated by taxes on highway user products, primarily gasoline, would be credited to the fund for highway and bridge projects. The legislation expanded the interstates to 41,000 miles and authorized $25 billion that would be disbursed between 1957 and 1969 for construction. The federal government would foot 90 percent of the bill. President Eisenhower signed the bill into law on June 29, 1956.
The first project to begin under the Act was improvements to the Mark Twain Expressway (Interstate 70) in St. Charles County, Missouri. The construction of the interstate system over the following decades profoundly changed both the physical landscape of the country and how it was explored and accessed by its citizens.