Thanks to Interstate 80, or I-80 for short, this is not the case. Thanks to this astonishing nearly three thousand mile-long superhighway, it’s possible to set off on the George Washington Bridge in New York City and traverse the entire length of the continental US all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, all on the same stretch of road.
Let’s take a look at how this gargantuan highway completely changed the way Americans travel on four wheels.
Road Trips Before the Interstate – The American Interstate System is a feat of engineering among the grandest ever constructed anywhere in the world, and Interstate 80 has remained the crown jewel of this achievement since it began operation back in 1956.
Previous transcontinental roadways like the famed Lincoln Highway, which ran from Times Square, New York City to San Francisco, California, consisted of a loosely connected series of state roads that varied greatly in surface quality ranging from gravel roads to unpaved rural backroads. Making them unoptimized for long-distance, high-speed transportation and relegating most of such travel to railways and trains for the first half of the 20th century.
Eisenhower Changes Everything – Make no mistake, the primary focus of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, or Interstate Highway System for short, was not to help American families get to their holiday destination a bit faster.
Eisenhower gained experience in grueling troop transports across the old Lincoln Highway and subsequently grew to admire the German Autobahn system during his time as a General in the U.S Army. This experience convinced him of a need for a network of lengthy and vast stretches of road that would be used to allow transportation of military assets, including troops, vehicles, and weapons across the continental United States without impediment.
Clearly, though, I-80 is not primarily filled with tanks and troop transport trucks today, leaving the highway to its job as the main artery feeding automobile traffic east or west across 11 states. Construction on the I-80, the crown jewel of the Interstate Highway System, began in 1956 and built most of its supporting infrastructure coast to coast by the mid-1980s, thirty years after Eisenhower’s initial decree.
Interstate 80 By The Numbers – The prospects of a superhighway that spans the length of the fourth largest nation on Earth sounds impressive by itself, but let’s provide some facts and figures that put into context just how enormous of a feat of engineering it was.
Interstate 80 is not the longest continuously operating Interstate Highway in the United States. That title belongs to Interstate 90, a road that spans over 3,000 miles from Boston, Massachusetts, to Seattle, Washington. At 2,899.59 miles from end to end, Interstate 80 sits comfortably in the number two position. However, I-80 receives significantly more vehicle traffic from city centers across the Interstate route like New York City, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco.
The highest point of the interstate sits at the Sherman Hills summit in Wyoming at just under 8,700 feet. If a roadmap of I-80 is superimposed over a map of continental Europe, the road would span eight different countries, from France to Russia. With distances to travel that vast, it’s no wonder I-80 has connected American drivers in ways unimaginable before. As far as superhighway megaprojects are concerned, very few other roads in the world even come close.