Title Bar: Put the Money Under the Rubber, The Texas Highway Department 1917-1968, from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission
Table of Contents
Introduction
The King's Highways
By Raft, Oxcart, Horseback, and Canoe
Good Roads for Texas
Get the Farmer Out of the Mud
Creation of the Highway Department
The Highway Department in Depression and War
The Great Age of Building
The Third God
Online Finding Aids
For Further Reading
Contact Us
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Creation of the Highway
Department

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: November 14, 2011