From Pioneer Paths to Superhighways - The Texas Highway Department Blazes Texas Trails 1917-1968

Table of ContentsIntroductionThe King's HighwaysBy Raft, Oxcart, Horseback, and CanoeGood Roads for TexasGet the Farmer Out of the MudCreation of the Highway DepartmentThe Highway Department in Depression and WarThe Great Age of BuildingThe Third GodOnline Finding AidsFor Further ReadingMore Exhibits

Creation of the Highway Department - Page 4    | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |

Towards a Professional Organization

Map detail, Federal highway system progress map, 1933
All roads lead to Dallas: Detail, Map Showing Progress on Federal Highway System, 1931.
Texas State Archives Map Number 903. More details and full-sized image

In addition to the new fees and the gas tax, Ross Sterling and the citizen’s advisory panel championed the idea of issuing bonds to fund highway projects. Sterling made the bond proposal a centerpiece of his campaign for governor in 1930. Sterling’s opponent was Mrs. Ferguson, who as usual stayed in the background while her husband lambasted Sterling as a “lordly aristocrat.” Sterling countered with a stinging rebuke: “I know enough to tell the state’s money and my money apart.”

H.A. Clapp to the Texas Highway Commission, September 1933

A Collegeport booster group pleads for a causeway to Palacios. The writer recounts that an auto trip between the two towns, just three miles apart, requires a trek of 32 miles.

Sterling won the election but lost the battle to fund more projects with bonds. The state had started to suffer the effects of the 1929 stock market crash, and Texas counties were facing a massive default on their road bonds. The state was forced to bail out more than $100 million in county debt (some $1.5 billion in today’s money). The experience stuck with generations of Texas legislators and voters: the Highway Department would operate entirely on a pay-as-you-go basis until 2000, when the first state road bonds were authorized.

Other projects marked the development of the Highway Department into a serious and professional organization. The department installed more than 100,000 road signs to comply with new federal requirements. (The previous system of marking roads consisted of stripes painted on trees.) A complete survey of highways produced the first accurate road map in Texas. The accounting department was equipped with modern tabulating equipment and expanded from three employees to 21. Public accountability also increased with the production of a weekly detour report to help trucks and travelers plan their routes, and the highway patrol was increased from 50 to 120 officers.

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Page last modified: July 11, 2019