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Bulloch History with Roger Allen

The start of I-16

When Dwight D. Eisenhower became president of the United States, he knew exactly what he wanted to do: build an American version of the German Autobahn, which even the Allied armies were unable to put out of commission. He appointed two special committees to look into the many different facets of highway building. One, the Interagency Committee was composed of members of the Departments of Defense, Commerce and Treasury, along with officials from other agencies. The other was the Presidents Advisory Committee on National Highway Programs.
After each group undertook studies, they approached the president with two totally different ideas: the Interagency Group favored building a national system of toll roads, while the Advisory Group favored building a system of National Highways paid for by the issuance of bonds. In 1956, the United States Congress passed the Federal Aid Highway Act (2). It proposed spending $25 billion dollars over the next 12 years on highway construction, to be paid for by an extra penny sales tax on gasoline and diesel fuels. Not surprisingly, the idea of a new tax didn’t sit well with a lot of people. Eisenhower, however, signed the bill, and ordered that work be begun.
The specifications for these new highways were very precise: each roadway lane was to be twelve feet wide, with a ten foot wide paved shoulder; there must be no roadway with a greater than 3 percent grade; and every bridge crossing the highway must have at least 14 feet of clearance; all roads must be capable of safely allowing speeds of 70 miles per hour; and every interchange must be at least two miles apart from the next or last. Eventually the system had over 41,000 miles of roadway, over 55,000 bridges, and over 16,000 interchanges. Each mile of paved roadway required the purchase of 24 acres, and each interchange required the purchase of 80 acres.
The final bill for the “National System Of Interstate and Defense Highways” came to a staggering $114 billion dollars.
On November 14, 1956, the very first stretch of the new Interstate system was opened just west of Topeka, Kansas. This fact was symbolic in several ways, because Kansas is the geographic center of the United States and also the birthplace of President Eisenhower. The small 8 mile piece between Valenda and Maple Hill Corner cost $1,511,571 to complete, or some $190,000 per mile.
Bulloch County just happens to be traversed by one of these highways, in the nomenclature of highways, it is I-16 (or the Jim Gillis Memorial Highway, or even State Road 404). The first stretch of I-16 opened in Tattnall and Laurens counties, and soon earned the sobriquet of the “Jim Gillis Dragstrip”. Savannah got their pieces in 1967, and Macon got hers in 1968. The last pieces of the I-16 puzzle to fall into place, somewhat interestingly, was the stretch between Statesboro and Metter.
Governor George D. Busbee led the dedication ceremonies in Metter on September 25, 1978. He declared that I-16 now covered the 165 miles between Macon and Savannah, and had been completed at a cost of $134.6 million. He also told those assembled that I-16 was one of a relatively small number of Intrastate Interstates, that is, highways that did not cross any state lines.
Statistically speaking, the benefits to Bulloch County of the passage through it of this new thoroughfare were almost immediate: the population of Bulloch County between 1968 and 1988 grew by a remarkable 30 percent, and the number of jobs held in the county increased by an equally impressive 50 percent. This growth has certainly not subsided since them, as “the Boro” is by far one of the busiest places in Coastal Georgia.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look at Bulloch County's historical past. E-mail Roger at roger dodger53@hotmail.com

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