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America’s Interstates Continue to Impact Pop Culture

Wed July 12, 2006 - National Edition
CEG



America’s transportation network, anchored by 46,000-mi. of Interstate highways and approximately 56,000 Interstate bridges, has inspired more than 500 popular songs and played a central role in more than 100 major motion pictures, according to research by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).

ARTBA conducted the Internet search to coincide with the upcoming Jun 29, 50th Anniversary of the U.S. Interstate Highway System, and to show how the road and bridge network influenced pop culture in the United States.

The association’s search for “road songs” drew such classics as:

• Life is a Highway, Tom Cochrane

• On the Road Again, Willie Nelson

• King of the Road, Roger Miller

• Long and Winding Road, The Beatles

• Thunder Road and Workin’ on the Highway, Bruce Springsteen

• Take Me Home, Country Roads, John Denver

• Ventura Highway, America

• Hit the Road, Jack, Ray Charles

• Divided Highway, Doobie Brothers

• Freeway of Love, Aretha Franklin

• Highway to Hell, AC/DC

• Too Many Highways, Merle Haggard

• Endless Highway, Alison Kraus

• Interstate Love Song, Stone Temple Pilots

American moviemakers also have used transportation and highway themes and backdrops over the past 50 years to both entertain us and provoke serious thought. Examples include:

• Thunder Road (1958): Bootleggers versus the Feds, with Robert Mitchum.

• Easy Rider (1969): Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson in a classic search for America on motorcycle.

• Smokey and the Bandit (1977): Burt Reynolds, Sally Field and Jackie Gleason embark on a cross-country car and truck chase.

• Convoy (1978): Ali McGraw and Kris Kristofferson meet in this trucker-CB radio movie based on C.W. McCall’s hit song of the same name.

• The Cannonball Run (1981): A cross-country road race with Farrah Fawcett and Burt Reynolds.

• National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983): Chevy Chase and his family hit the road for Wally World.

• Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987): An intermodal comedy featuring Steve Martin and John Candy.

• Thelma and Louise (1991): Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis hit the highway, but take a wrong turn.

• Road Trip (2000): Tom Green and Seann William Scott teen comedy features road trip from Ithaca, NY, to Texas.

“Most of us take this incredible transportation network and our Interstate highways for granted,” said ARTBA Senior Vice President of Communications and Marketing Matt Jeanneret. “We only tend to focus on it when repair work or traffic congestion inconveniences us. But when you take the time to think about it, you realize the enormous impacts the Interstate system has on the American culture, economy and quality of life. Movies and music are a good reflection of that.”

Jeanneret pointed out that the U.S. transportation construction industry has designed and built 3.9 million mi. of American roads, including the Interstate System; 5,400 airports; 200,000 mi. of U.S. freight and passenger railway; 5,800 mi. of urban mass transit lines with more than 2,300 stations; and 360 American ports.

Each year, he said, the nations transportation infrastructure handles approximately 5 trillion mi. of personal travel — an average 15,000 mi. per year per American — and more than $9 trillion worth of freight. According to Jeanneret, the roadway network alone has an asset value of approximately $1.4 trillion, which is approximately 10 times the collective asset value of all computers used in the United States.

ARTBA, based in Washington, D.C., was organized in 1902 by a visionary Michigan public official, Horatio S. Earle, for the purpose of advocating federal legislation to create a “Capital Connecting Government Highway System.” That vision was realized when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the 1956 law authorizing the Interstate Highway construction program and creating the Highway Trust Fund to finance it.

For more information, visit www.artba.org.