The interstate highway system, born in the 1940s from the discerning mind of the future President Dwight D. Eisenhower, has been an extraordinary engine driving economic growth and enriching quality-of life in America ever since its launch in 1956.
The interstate highway system democratized mobility in the United States, endowing virtually all Americans with the freedom to move quickly to any destination within their communities, throughout the country, inexpensively, and when their individual needs required it. America became a nation on wheels — reaping benefits from an individual mobility that are unrivaled anywhere in the world.
A vast region of the United States — 205,000 square miles with 25 million people, known as Appalachia — was not included in the national interstate highway system. The terrain is rugged. Building roads in such terrain is expensive, thus much of this region was excluded from the original interstate system.
But President John F. Kennedy recognized the economic consequences of isolation for the poverty-stricken residents of Appalachia, who had been denied economic opportunities and the infrastructure required to create them. His vision and leadership resulted in the President’s Appalachian Regional Commission (PARC) charged with establishing a comprehensive program for the economic development of the Appalachian Region.
The PARC placed top priority on a modern highway system as essential to economic development. A broad, bipartisan coalition in Congress authorized the construction of the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS) in the Appalachian Development Act of 1965. The ADHS was designed to generate economic development in previously isolated areas, supplement the interstate system, and provide access to areas within the region as well as to markets in the rest of the nation.
Nearly fifty years after creation of the ADHS, now that 88% of the total system is complete or currently under construction, Alabama is poised to begin construction on its final 52.5-mile part of the system, the Northern Beltline.
After years of lagging behind the twelve other ARC states with only 54% of qualifying miles completed, Alabama is expected to finally see work begin on the Northern Beltline in 2013!