Video: A trip down memory lane

By Mike Taibbi Correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/29/2006 7:50:13 PM ET 2006-06-29T23:50:13

Of course we take it for granted now — the nearly 47,000 miles of interstate highway system that connects everyone to every American place and allows trucks to bring us everything we might want or need.

But when President Dwight Eisenhower created it 50 years ago, the newsreels got it right: “The biggest peacetime enterprise ever taken! It will cost tens of billions!”

Ike's dream began with his own two-month cross-country trip with the Army in 1919, averaging six miles an hour and, his great-grandson says, constant mechanical breakdowns including one in the middle of the desert.

"And they got lost for two days, with no transmission anywhere across the whole entire country, people thought they died,” Eisenhower’s great-grandson, Merrill Eisenhower Atwater, says.

Years later one of the advocates behind the highway bill was an Illinois congressman who had also served with Ike at Normandy.

"Ten years later, he was in the White House and I was in Congress, so I had a leg up in getting his attention,” says former U.S. Rep. Kenneth Gray.

The result? A concrete tapestry that now endures 412 billion truck miles and 3 billion passenger miles a year, and that's kept the promise it made decades ago.

Imagine gas at 25 cents a gallon, coast to coast without a single traffic light, and all you had to do was put the top down, the pedal to the metal, aim for that highway on-ramp … and go!

Of course the system is showing its age, and highway chroniclers like Bob Sullivan say pollution, urban ghettos and suburban sprawl can be countered with new priorities.

“Bike trails, walking trails. This is an amazing opportunity. This system needs to be fixed,” says Sullivan.

But for now, Ike's dream rolls on. As it is.

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