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Cross-country convoy celebrates 50 years of interstate

SKYLER BELL, Of the Record staff

When President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed an interstate highway system 50 years ago, the Deseret Morning News ran a letter to the editor in which the writer questioned the value of a road that would take drivers non-stop to Provo.

Now people write to complain that the road is only four lanes.

The United States highway system is celebrating its 50th anniversary this summer by retracing the same route Eisenhower took as a lieutenant in the Army in 1919 with a celebratory convoy. The route, which runs from the nation’s capital to San Francisco, took Eisenhower 62 problem-filled days to complete. The celebratory convoy, which includes long-haul trucks, buses, period cars and motorcycles, is doing it in reverse from June 16 to June 29.

The caravan left Reno, Nev., on Saturday and headed toward Salt Lake City. Utah State Troopers met the convoy at the state line and escorted it to This is the Place State Park, where the participants had a barbecue and were addressed by former senator Jake Garn and current senator Bob Bennett, who’s father was also a senator and voted to pass the legislation that created the interstate highways.

Sunday was an off day where the participants could see the Salt Lake sights and explore Utah. Ralph Garcia, one of America’s Road Team captains who is driving a truck in the convoy, decided to use the day to go to a gym, then join in a service project for American soldiers.

"We have a guy who’s with us from Operation Independence and he’s packing packages for the soldiers full of stuff they don’t get in rations," he said. "At the end they slip a note in there that says that we support them. We helped get those ready and it was great."

Although this will be one of the longest rides of his career, Garcia, who has driven over 2 million accident-free miles, said the cause makes it worth it.

"If it wasn’t for the Interstates I wouldn’t have a job," he said. "They’ve asked us to do this on behalf of the Highway Watch Program. I knew it was about the Interstate and celebrating the 50th anniversary and I wanted to be a part of that. The story about Eisenhower is great and we even have his great-grandson with us."

He also said he appreciated the send-off Utah gave on Monday when the convoy left for Laramie, Wyo. David Creer, Exectutive Director of Utah Trucking, agreed.

"The convoy was at Sugar House Park in Salt Lake with the motorcycle patrol and they had quite a group of people, which was nice," Creer said. "Speaker Greg Curtis and Gov. Jon Huntsman spoke and rode their motorcycles to lead the procession out of Sugarhouse on to I-80 and past Park City up to Laramie."

Creer said the interstate highway system is one of the reasons America has become an economic world power and has a high standard of living.

"As a vision of President Eisenhower, he wanted it for two reasons: first, he wanted it for the security of the country moving freight and, second, for interstate commerce," he said. "I think it really had a tremendous part to do with how we live today — the freedom we have to travel wherever we want and live wherever we want. As far as trucking, it had to be one of the biggest advances in commerce. It gave us the chance to move goods cheaply and quickly. It had a huge impact. I don’t think even Eisenhower foresaw the impact it would have."

Even though the national impact the roadways have had is incalculable, Creer said the impact it had on Utah as an individual state is just as grand.

"The fact that we have I-80 and I-15 here, I know it really gets trite, but it makes us one of the crossroads of the country," he said. "We have become an invaluable western port for freight movement. I-80 and I-15 really put Utah on the map."

With major hubs for companies like UPS, Fed-Ex, Swift, Yellow Freight, US Reddway, Con-way, CR England, Motor Cargo and more, Utah has become a home to many freight companies in part because of the state’s three major freeways.

Bethany Eller, Public Information Officer at the Utah Department of Transportation, said that on June 29, 1956 when Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, the U.S. changed immediately, and the effect can be seen in Utah.

"One of the things that’s unique about Utah is what we call the Spaghetti Bowl where I-15 and I-80 connect, giving us an East-West connection," Eller said. "That’s a unique spot and a huge asset to motor carriers. It brings in business and really helps our economic community develop."

According to AASHTO, the interstate system includes almost 47,000 miles of road, connecting every state capital but five and passing over 55,510 bridges, 84 tunnels and 14,750 interchanges. The third and fourth longest freeways pass through Utah, as well as the second longest North-South freeway.

As the convoy moves on toward Washington, D.C., cities in the 15 states along the way will have similar celebrations to Utah, ending with a party near the White House.


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