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Special Message to the Congress on Highway Construction.

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government

Special Message to the Congress on Highway Construction.

President Harry S Truman
February 9, 1948

To the Congress of the United States:

The roads of this country have been improved tremendously in the past thirty years. Over the years we have developed an increasingly efficient highway network. This has been made possible by active cooperation between the states and the Federal government.

In this partnership the Federal government has contributed part of the funds, extensive technical assistance, and the means for unifying the state systems into a national network. The states and local subdivisions also have contributed funds, and have been primarily responsible for planning and actual construction. Working together, the Federal, State and local governments have developed the most efficient and extensive road system in the world.

Successive Congressional enactments were directed first toward improving rural roads and inter-city highways. More recently, a start has been made toward improving also the through highways in our cities. Today Federal aid is helping to develop an integrated traffic network to meet national, state and important local needs.

It is necessary for the Congress to consider new highway legislation during the present session because the existing authorization will be substantially committed by December 31, 1948. While construction under these commitments will be continuing for at least two years thereafter, it is necessary at this time to extend the authorization in order that the States may have adequate opportunity for the orderly development of further construction programs.

In recent years, our highway construction has not kept pace with the growth in traffic. When the war came, we sharply curtailed the highway building program, limiting ourselves to a minimum program of repair and permitting improvement and new construction only where urgently necessary for war purposes. After the war ended, construction was necessarily delayed still further as a result of shortages of material and high costs.

On the other hand, the volume of business in the United States has grown more than 50 per cent since 1940. This is reflected in the fact that we are now using one-third more trucks which are carrying heavier loads and travelling more miles. There are also about one million more automobiles in use now than there were in 1941, despite the fact that the production of automobiles for civilian use was discontinued during the war. In all there are nearly three million more vehicles on the road than before the war.

By any reasonable standard our highways are inadequate for today's demands. Future demands will inevitably be greater as business traffic continues to expand, as our population grows, and as we build roads to reach needed resources now relatively inaccessible. Furthermore, we must reconstruct important stretches of road which were not built to carry heavy traffic safely and at reasonable speed. Modern automobiles, heavier trucks, greater pleasure and commercial travel all increase the need to improve our highways as a means of lowering the present shocking total of highway accidents.

To build the highways that will meet these needs will require continuous effort over a long period of time and on an extensive scale. For the immediate future, we must limit expenditures to avoid excessive costs resulting from over-taxing the capacity of the construction industry and to avoid inflationary pressure on the national economy. But we can and must continue to rebuild and modernize our highways where their present obsolescence results in excessive safety hazards and wasteful maintenance costs, and where present traffic capacity is most seriously inadequate.

Taking all of these factors into account, I recommend that the Congress enact legislation at this session continuing the Federal aid highway program for the fiscal years 1950 and 1951 at an annual rate of $500 million. Under the provisions of the basic highway law, the funds for the first of these fiscal years would become available for commitment not later than January 1, 1949. I have asked the Administrator of the Federal Works Agency to submit to the appropriate committees of the Congress proposed legislation to this end. The same legislation should continue the authorization for direct Federal construction of roads in public land areas, such as the National forests, National parks and Indian reservations, in an annual amount of $71 million.

Enactment of legislation at this session will permit continuity in planning and construction. Most of the State legislatures meet early in 1949. The States need a firm basis of Federal action in advance in order to determine the engineering and budgetary aspects of the State highway programs.

The program I am recommending now is a conservative one, necessary to maintain prudently our investment in highways. When conditions permit in the future, we should plan to accelerate our progress toward a highway system adequate to carry our expanding agricultural and business traffic, to accommodate with safety and speed the personal travel of our people, and to meet the needs of our national security.


Note: On June 29, 1948, the President approved the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1948 (62 Stat. 1105).

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