Interstate Highway System
Georgia's 1,244 miles of interstate highways perform several functions vital to the state's economy:
Conceived in the 1930s to encourage economic development and provide efficient defense transportation, the nationwide interstate system included 46,726 total miles in 2003. U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower is credited with launching the development of the system through the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956.
The interstate highway system was built to consistent design standards requiring limited access, wide lanes, paved shoulders, at least four lanes, and accommodation for speeds of up to seventy miles per hour. It was constructed largely with federal fuel and motor vehicle taxes through an aid system that provided 90 percent of the cost for approved segments.
A Georgia native, General Lucius D. Clay of Marietta, is credited with being the principal architect of the system. In 1954 President Eisenhower appointed Clay, who had managed the Berlin Airlift and presided over the rebuilding of Germany after World War II (1941-45), to chair a committee charged with mapping out a national interstate highway system. Clay's leadership brought Interstates 75, 85, and 20 through Atlanta, cementing the city's destiny as a transportation hub.
Connecting Georgia to the Nation
Because of Georgia's strategic geographic location, two of the nation's seven most important north-south transcontinental interstate highways pass through the state:
1) I-95 passes through Georgia's coastal area, linking Miami, Florida, with Houlton, Maine. On it motorists can travel 1,919 miles through sixteen states, including the metropolitan areas of Boston, New York City, Washington, and Richmond, Virginia. Completing the highway's entire length cost an estimated $8 billion.
2) I-75 crosses Georgia from its northwest corner to its far southern border with Florida, linking Miami with Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Motorists can travel a total of 1,786 miles on I-75, through Detroit, Cincinnati, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Completing the highway's entire length cost an estimated $5.1 billion.
Other interstate highways important for connecting Georgia to the rest of the nation include: I-85,
Other superhighways with interstate designations are circumferential highways or spurs connecting interstate highways within Georgia. In Atlanta, I-285 is the city's perimeter highway, and I-575 connects I-75 with counties in north Georgia. I-675 creates a shortcut from I-285 to I-75 south of the city, and I-985 connects I-85 with the Gainesville area in north Georgia. In Macon, I-475 allows travelers to bypass the city. I-185 connects I-85 with Columbus on Georgia's western side. I-516 is a spur highway in Savannah, and I-520 is Augusta's perimeter highway.
The Interstate System in Metropolitan Atlanta
Six interstate highways—I-20, I-75, I-85, I-285, I-575, and I-675—help metropolitan Atlanta residents get where they need to go.
John A. Jakle and Keith A. Sculle, Motoring: The Highway Experience in America (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008).
Tom Lewis, Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life (New York: Viking, 1997).
John D. Toon, Georgia Institute of Technology
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