(Note: The following is part of a series of articles looking at the growth of roads and transportation in Georgia and Bulloch County beginning in 1807.)
When Dwight D. Eisenhower became president of the United States, he set about building an American version of the German Autobahn. 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. The other was the President’s Advisory Committee on National Highway Programs.
The two committees 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 over the next 12 years on highway construction, to be paid for by an extra penny sales tax on gasoline and diesel fuels.
The specifications for these new highways were very precise: each roadway lane was to be 12 feet wide, with a 10-foot-wide paved shoulder; there must be no roadway with a grade greater than 3 percent.
In addition, 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.
On November 14, 1956, the first stretch of the new Interstate system opened west of Topeka, Kansas, which is both the geographic center of the United States and the birthplace of President Eisenhower. The cost was $190,000 per mile.
Bulloch County has one of these highways: I-16 (or the Jim Gillis Memorial Highway, or State Road 404). The first stretch of I-16 opened in Tattnall and Laurens counties and became known as the “Jim Gillis Dragstrip.”
The last piece of the I-16 puzzle to be completed was the stretch between Statesboro and Metter. I-16 now covered the 165 miles between Macon and Savannah, at a cost of $134.6 million to complete.
Governor George D. Busbee dedicated the highway on September 25, 1978, stating that I-16 was one of a relatively small number of intrastate Interstates — that is, highways that did not cross any state lines.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's historical past. Email Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org.