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Download Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life epub

by Tom Lewis

Provides a social, political, and technological history of the Interstate Highway System
Download Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life epub
ISBN: 067086627X
ISBN13: 978-0670866274
Category: Engineering
Subcategory: Engineering
Author: Tom Lewis
Language: English
Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (October 1, 1997)
Pages: 352 pages
ePUB size: 1507 kb
FB2 size: 1412 kb
Rating: 4.6
Votes: 689
Other Formats: doc docx mbr rtf

I was originally going to rate this book 4 stars like the other reviewers but had to knock it down a notch because of a couple of issues. First, I'm a Libertarian so I'm not here to try to defend the Republicans but the author went out of his way to bash Republicans (always referred to as conservative Republicans) throughout the book. If I wanted a biased editorial of historical Republicans I could have purchased biographies to cover the matter. The author really seemed to have a problem with Eisenhower who was portrayed as a feckless leader who never paid attention to details in anything he did. Another problem I had with the book was the way the author went off on tangents that weren't warranted. While I appreciate the historical perspective, I didn't feel the need for devoting an entire chapter to the history and nightlife of New Orleans just to show the opposition to some of the planned routes the highway would take around the city.

After reading the book I came away with the feeling that the author thinks our Interstate Highway System has done more harm than good for the nation's progress and economic growth. He implied that we would be better off with 2-lane roads that still go right through town so no family-owned gas stations go out of business or so we don't have to uproot anyone from inner-city slums.

I was hoping for more stories on the trials and tribulations of the actually building the highways. Also, it would have been very useful to have before-and-after pictures of areas in major cities served by the Interstates.

Overall, I was hoping for better.
As a frequent traveler of them, I've always been fascinated by the American interstate highway system and its history: the sheer magnitude of the accomplishment to build them in the first place and the fascinating stories that accompany their construction. So it was with great interest that I purchased Divided Highways and my expectations where rather high. But, for me, the book missed the mark somewhat. At times, I wondered about the theme of the book and tried to interpret the message it was sending. On one hand, a great amount of detail is given regarding the social/political ramifications of building the highways and changing consciousness of the 60s which thereafter changed how the interstate system was designed and built. But, then, at the same time, the book recounted stories of the engineers and the earliest developers of the interstate highway idea, providing a neat little history of how the interstate system "came to be." Oftentimes, it appeared that the author was critical of the "system," but, at times was critical of those who opposed it. It wasn't that the stories recounted in the book weren't interesting (they were), it's just I missed the theme here.

In the end, I gave the book 4 stars because while it was very interesting and engaging, it missed the mark with respect to my expectations...but not necessarily in a bad way. I would recommend the book to anyone looking to gain a better understanding of our highway system and the challenges it faced, and still faces today, but nonetheless look somewhere else if you are expecting a "tell all" history of the highway system.
DIVIDED HIGHWAYS by Tom Lewis is a 354-page book that focuses on one particular aspect of American history, namely, the beneficial but sometimes divisive aspects of the federal highway system. The title is a great one, because of its double entendre meaning. The book is printed on inexpensive off-white paper.

PHOTOGRAPHS. There are 45 quarter page black and white photographs, also printed on the cheap paper. For example, page 71 shows a photo of a new housing development in the early 1950s, with several moving vans delivering truckloads of furniture to each house. One of the trucks reads, "BEKINS." Another reads, "PAN AMERICAN STORAGE." Another photo, this one on page 175, shows the Pennsylvania Turnpike being built. It opened in 1940. Page 177 has photos of the two congressmen most responsible for the federal INTERSTATE HIGHWAY BILL, Albert Gore and George Fallon. Page 210 shows photos of WILLIAM BORAH and RICHARD BAUMBACH, who organized a successful protest to prevent an elevated highway from being built through the history French Quarter in New Orleans. Page 208 shows a Holiday Inn being opened. This chain was run by Charles K. Wilson.

CHAPTERS. The book contains 12 chapters, each having an indistinct name, such as, "The Chief" (Chapter One); "Mastering Nature" (Ch. 2); "The Dreamway" (Ch. 3); "The G.I. and the General" (Ch. 4); "The Grand Plan" (Ch. 5), and so on.

TITLE. The book's title is explained on the first page of the Preface, where we read, "The highway system connects American cities and people in a vast web of roads that carry the life of the nation, yet to build it, tens of thousands of Americans were dispossessed of their land and saw their homes and neighborhoods destroyed."

The following provides an account and excerpts from some of the many high points of the book.

THOMAS H. MACDONALD. On page 4, we learn that in 1926, a series of roads leading from Atlantic City to San Francisco became known as ROUTE 40. Interstate Route 40 was created by Thomas H. MacDonald, chief of the FEDERAL BUREAU OF PUBLIC ROADS. We learn that as a boy in Iowa, MacDonald witnessed the roads which, for a few months of every year, were too muddy for farmers to bring their grain to one of Iowa's many railroad stations. MacDonald learned civil engineering at Iowa State College. This, and other ag colleges, were initiated in 1862 by Justin S. Morrill of Vermont, who drafted the MURRILL LAND GRANT ACT. MacDonald took a road-building course from Prof. Anson Marston (page 7). He soon became a chief engineer for roads in Iowa. He faced, and overcame, the following problems: (1) Bridges made of wood that were too weak to carry horses and wagons, not to mention cars; (2) Bid rigging; (3) Fraud; (4) Shoddy work. In 1919, MacDonald became chief of the FEDERAL BUREAU OF PUBLIC ROADS. We learn that trucks increased in popularity after World War I, with the consequent destruction of thin concrete or thin asphalt roads. We learn that an early version of the interstate highway system was the "Pershing Map," which was intended to facilitate movement of vehicles of the U.S. military. We learn that in 1890, Benjamin Holt of Stockton, CA invented the caterpillar tractor, which enabled road building on soft soils (page 17). We learn about changing relations between the auto and train. In 1903, it took 63 days to drive from New York to California, and only 4 days by train. Also, we learn that railroads were angry at interstate truckers, because there were no federal regulations for trucking, at least, not until MOTOR CARRIER ACT of 1935.

ROBERT MOSES. Pages 26-29, 36-38, concern Robert Moses, who designed highways for New York City and Long Island. Moses devoted attention to details, such as planting azaleas and dogwoods at the sides of highways, and to granite bridges, each with a different pattern. Moses also made frequent use of eminent domain, which allows state and federal governments to steal private property and to destroy neighborhoods. We learn that Moses oversaw the building of bridges in New York City, e.g., Bronx-Whitestone Bridge (suspension bridge) and Triborough Bridge.

NEW ORLEANS. Page 182-210 concern plans to build an elevated highway in New Orleans, which included highways going through the FRENCH QUARTER, planned by Robert Moses. We read about successful protests by Borah, Baumbach, Edgar B. Stern (owner of WDSU television station in New Orleans), Louis Oberdorfer (attorney in Washington DC), and John A. Volpe (secretary of Transportation in Nixon's cabinet).

PERIPHERAL TOPICS. Although I would prefer a book that stays "on topic," DIVIDED HIGHWAYS is made more enjoyable by occasional forays into the global context. For example, page 54 contains a paragraph on world events in 1939, e.g., Franco captured Madrid and ended the Spanish Civil War; Mussolini invaded Albania; and Hitler captured Czechoslovakia.

WALTER A. JONES. Pages 58-70 concern the building of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, headed by Walter A. Jones. Jones was a businessman in the fields of glass manufacturing and oil refining, and had in 1936 contributed $150,000 to FDR's election. In turn, FDR funded the Turnpike, which provided jobs to some of the 566,437 unemployed people in Pennsylvania. The PENNSYLVANIA TURNPIKE COMMISSION awarded contracts to 118 companies. Portable generators provided lights for night work. Contractors were required to have generous supplies of spare parts to fix their machines. Unlike most earlier highways, the new Turnpike did not follow the contours of the land, but instead leveled the ground and blasted hills out of the way. Temporary cement plants were built where bridges were being constructed. We read, e.g., "one team of about twelve drillers and twelve helpers called chukkers, working form a steel scaffold that workers called a jumbo, drilled as many as a hundred holes deep into the rock face. Toward the end of an eight-hour sift, the men packed the holes with explosives." (As you can see, this book is filled with lively facts, which are skillfully woven together.)

CHARLES SCHUMATE and the EISENHOWER TUNNEL. Pages 253-257 concern the "STRAIGHT CREEK TUNNEL," later named, "EISENHOWER TUNNEL." We read that in 1920, airplanes out of Denver could not fly over the Rockies because of lack of pressurized cabins. We learn that the project was like building a 5-story building through a mountain. We read that the problem of carbon monoxide from expected automobiles and trucks was overcome with six fans at each end of the tunnel. We read that the problem of water leaking into the tunnel, resulting from melting snow in the spring, and causing 300 gallons of water to leak into the tunnel, was solved by building drains. We read that the bedrock was 75% granite and 25% gneiss and schist, and that there were fault zones. The first of the two bores opened in 1973, and the second in 1979. The project was overseen by Charles Schumate, who had no college degree, but who was, "a chainman, the one who assisted surveyors in measuring distances . . . instrument man, project engineer, resident engineer, then chief administrative engineer of the maintenance division."

ALBERT GORE AND GEORGE FALLON. Pages 115-123 inform the reader of highway bills by Tennessee senator Albert Gore and Maryland representative George Fallon. Fallon's bill was modeled after Gore's bill, but refrained from raising the public debt. Fallon's bill raised taxes on gasoline, diesel fuel, trucks, buses, tires, and was called, "pay-as-you-go." Eventually, funding for Fallon's bill was provided by a separate bill, HIGHWAY REVENUE ACT, authored by Hale Boggs. Thus, the FEDERAL-AID HIGHWAY ACT of 1956 was signed by Eisenhower on June 29, 1956, when he was recovering from surgery for ileitis. The Act provided 25 billion dollars for the interstate highways, which included, e.g., the Beltway that circles Washington DC.

CONCLUSION. I like this book. It is the only book that I have read three times. Tom Lewis' other book, which concerns the invention of radio, is equally excellent and equally readable.
That suffers from a definite problem in translation to the kindle. Many typos created bumps along the way and slowed down the pace of reading. Obviously no one proofread the scan before putting it on the site. Nevertheless it was an informative read on something that influences every American citizen.