With historic Promontory Point standing like a sentinel on the horizon, dignitaries reflected Monday (June 19) on the forces that joined America’s shorelines and linked its people.
What the transcontinental railroads did in 1869 with the driving of a golden spike and marriage of two railroad building enterprises, the interstate highway system replicated in the 20th century – the results of visionary President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Words of celebration came as a convoy of transportation officials concluded a stop in Salt Lake City last weekend and prepared for the next leg of their cross-country journey.
Beginning four days earlier in San Francisco, the convoy retraces the route of a caravan that culminated with signing of the funding bill, on June 29, 1956, that created the interstate highway system.
ITD Director Dave Ekern took the opportunity to draw parallels between the modes of surface transportation. In an address at Monday’s media event and sendoff from Utah, he said it was appropriate to celebrate the highway system’s golden anniversary not far from where the golden spike completed construction of the first coast-to-coast railroad.
Ekern also reminded Monday’s audience the interstate highway system is living entity. And though it unofficially was declared complete in the early 1990s (a section of Interstate 90 in northern Idaho was among the last segments to be constructed), the aging system needs significant attention. He explained Idaho’s partial remedy, Connecting Idaho, the state’s largest infrastructure program intended to unite all regions of the state as the interstate joined all regions of the country.
And portions of the Connecting Idaho funds will be applied to Idaho’s interstate system as a way of improving safety and easing congestion.
The ITD director joined Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and John Njord, director of the Utah Department of Transportation, for the morning sendoff.
“More than anything else, the interstate provides a very important commodity, which is mobility,” Huntsman said. “This is something worth celebrating.”
Nicole Warburton, a reporter for the Desert News in Salt Lake City agreed.
“It was a fitting scene for a landmark celebration: big trucks, men and women on motorcycles, and the rush of traffic on I-80,” she wrote in the newspaper’s Tuesday edition. (See Deseret News story.)
“As part of a month-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the nation’s interstate highway system, a group of visiting dignitaries – in trucks, cars and on motorcycles – stopped at Sugarhouse Park on Monday to talk about the benefits of America’s interstates. I-80, which was clogged with morning traffic, was the backdrop for the gathering.”
Following the morning event, Gov. Huntsman straddled his Harley Davidson motorcycle, dressed in a leather jacket, and led the convoy of about 50 vehicles, large and small, from the state park onto the interstate and east toward the Utah/Wyoming border.
Nestled among the official convoy vehicles was a sparkling ITD 10-wheel truck with Verlin Williams at the wheel. He rode with the convoy on I-80 and then headed back to his home port, Malad, in District 5.
ITD also presented a glimpse of its interstate history
in more than two-dozen photographs dating to the late 1950s and early
1960s. The displays were set up at an informal Saturday evening barbecue
and reception for convoy participants at This is the Place State Park
and at Monday’s sendoff at Sugarhouse Park.
For a brief web cast interview conducted with Dave Ekern go to: http://ncntv.org/events/060629/default.cfm?ID=7018&type=wmhigh&clip=2 Click on the June 20, 2006, link. Ekern is the first of several transportation officials interviewed.