OF DWIGHT EISENHOWER'S contributions to the United States, two are paramount: his leadership of the Allied armies against Nazi Germany and, as president, his initiation of the interstate highway system in this country.
Some revisionists have questioned the intent of Ike's highway program, contending that what he and his advisers had in mind was not so much a public works program to make it easier for Jane and John to drive from Colorado to Pennsylvania to see Grandma but, rather, a network of roadways over which war materiel could be moved rapidly during the apex of our impasse with the Soviet Union.Regardless of its purpose, the interstate highway system - begun during Ike's second administration in 1956 - has done much to enhance the way American motorists travel, but, lamentably, also has played a heavy role in what has happened to our core cities and suburbs.
Initially, the limited-access superhighways slashed through the hearts of some of America's large cities, usually through lower-economic class neighborhoods, causing even greater property value declines while creating walls of concrete that separated neighbor from neighbor, relative from relative.
Shortly, it was realized that these so-called limited-access highways were, indeed, quite accessible; they became commuter roads on which traffic poured from the suburbs to workplaces in the core cities. Jane and John had a difficult time in getting through those towns on the way to Grandma, especially during rush hour.
Subsequently, it was decided to create loop roads - many labeled with the interstate brand - around the traffic-choked towns.
What that led to is evident in almost every major city today. The loop roads - bypasses - opened new areas of commercial expansion. Where once there were boondocks, there now were superhighways.
So what better place to construct more buildings than out where the new highways were leading them: in the boondocks, where land values still were cheap? The extension of that undertaking was that, sooner than imagined, the bypass roads also became commuter highways choked with traffic, while the environment of the boondocks became seriously affected.
As the bypasses became more and more impassible, further-out bypasses were created in some cities - circular ribbons of concrete upon which autos and 18-wheelers creep along. In South Florida, developers - and jelly-kneed politicians - have been eying the already violated habitat of the Everglades, the existing extension of the Florida Turnpike being the second - and presently westernmost - intrusion on the great natural wetland and nature preserve.
As we approach the millennium, it is not science fiction to look into the future to see our farm and grazing land paved over with shopping malls and housing projects, our food supply greatly impacted and our dependency on other nations for sustenance higher than it is now for T-shirts, toys and automobiles.
Maybe it's not a doomsday forecast, but I doubt that anyone could have imagined how much a role an expanded highway system would have on the life and times of late 20th-century America.