The Great Age of Building
"The Religion of the Motor Car"
The Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike in September 1957, one month after opening to traffic. The turnpike replaced an agonizing slog through 82 stoplights on Division Street (U.S. Highway 80). Its construction stimulated the growth of Arlington and Grand Prairie and led directly to the construction of Six Flags Over Texas. Now part of Interstate 30, the 30-mile stretch of highway was renamed the Tom Landry Highway in 2001 to honor the legendary coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
Texas Highway Department Records (Oversized Records), Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Construction of the interstate highway system began in 1954. Texas was allocated almost 3000 miles of the system, which totaled some 41,000 miles nationwide. The Texas interstates would include the mighty Interstate 35, which runs from the Mexican to the Canadian borders, and four east-west routes (I-10, I-20, I-30, and I-40). Eventually the system would expand to include loops around Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio, and four intrastate routes (I-37, I-45, I-27, and I-44) that were upgraded to national standards.
In this 1956 letter, Dewitt Greer informs the Texas Highway Commission that Texas is in line for $25 billion in federal money ($198 billion in current dollars) to construct the interstates.
Texas was not immune from the unforeseen consequences of the interstate boom. Cities were cut in half by the huge highways, with lasting effects on geography, unity, and liveability. Generations later, city planners still struggle to revamp downtowns drained of their vitality when historic neighborhoods, parklands, and scores of independent retailers, hotels, and movie theaters were cleared to make room for the roads.
In addition, roadside businesses and entire communities that had sprung up to serve traffic along the older highways suffered severe economic fallout when the interstate passed them by. The new highways spawned their own economic culture of motel chains and fast-food eateries, including Texas-grown Whataburger and Church’s Fried Chicken.
Such concerns were far from the thoughts of the majority of Texans during the interstate boom. The transformation of Texas roads was regarded as modernization and the old buildings dismissed as "blight." When Lewis Munford blasted the interstate project as “the religion of the motor car,” Texans who remembered what it was like to use a mule to haul a Model T Ford out of the mud might have been forgiven for not realizing the famed urbanist meant the comment as a criticism.
In 1961, a delegation from Gainesville in Cooke County spoke before the Texas Highway Commission to ask for modifications to a highway ramp that had left nine businesses orphaned and without direct access. Changes of this nature were not easy to make, and the Federal Bureau of Public Roads initially refused Texas's proposal, later allowing it after the personal intervention of Governor Price Daniel and Vice-President Lyndon Johnson.
Partial Transcript of the Hearing
I-35 Through Gainesville, Cooke County, Texas Highway Department Records, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.