From Pioneer Paths to Superhighways - The Texas Highway Department Blazes Texas Trails 1917-1968
Guts and Integrity
Beauty queens Jackie Knapp and Patty Owen hold the ribbon for a carload of dignitaries at the 1966 dedication of Interstate 35 East at Forreston near Waxahachie. Courtesy Texas Department of Transportation.
Decisions made by Dewitt Greer made Texas interstates different in significant ways from highways in other states. Greer believed strongly that highways were for the benefit of local people, not just travelers and truckers passing through. For this reason, Texas interstates were built with more points of entry than most other parts of the country. In addition, the highways have much more extensive frontage roads through cities. Like most highway engineers, Greer failed to foresee the coming problem of sprawl and the traffic congestion in Texas cities that would result from their heavy use by locals and the proliferation of shopping centers and office parks along the frontage roads.
The effects of the interstates on American and Texan culture continued to play themselves out, but Texas was unquestionably a leader in the construction, both in technical execution and in the ethic with which the work was carried out. The bad old days of graft and corruption had been replaced by a department in which people of ability were placed in responsible positions and then allowed to work largely free of political interference. The working atmosphere was summed up in a motto used by Highway Department employees in the 1960s: Guts and Integrity.
Greer and the department were famous for their tight specifications and high standards for contractors. Texas also became a leader in funding research and development of road materials and techniques for building and maintaining highways. The technological innovations in which Texas participated include the development of pre-stressed concrete, slip form pavement sections, asphalt binders, grooved pavement, better signage, and computerized engineering, as well as improved techniques for planning, management, and monitoring of the highway system. And for all their effects on society, both planned and unexpected, the new roads were safer and more durable than the earlier two-lane highways.
I-35: "The Motorist's Delight"
A "ribbon of girls" stands ready at the dedication of Interstate 35 in Austin, March 29, 1962. Courtesy Texas Department of Transportation. View more images.
Dewitt Greer was an early and energetic support of the national highway system, which he called “interregionals,” a term used in early planning sessions. For many years, the highway known today as Interstate 35 was called the Interregional in its section that passed through Austin.
In 1963, the Dallas Morning News published an insert describing the newly opened Interstate 35. After carefully explaining how to safely use the entrance and exit ramps, the paper predicted with sweeping optimism that the highway would eventually connect both continents of the Americas from Cape Horn to Alaska (the present highway runs from Laredo, Texas to Duluth, Minnesota).
“A soaring symphony of engineering,” I-35 would eliminate head-on collisions, traffic bottlenecks, and enable drivers to zip through cities with “astonishing speed.” This “wide sweep of green bordered, divided splendor” would also enhance property values wherever it passed, enabling the construction of new office parks that decentralized cities and moved jobs to the growing suburbs.