FRANCIS C. TURNER, 78, who retired in 1972 as head of the Federal Highway Administration after a distinguished career at FHA and its predecessor agency, the Bureau of Public Roads, has a better claim than anyone else to responsibility for the Interstate Highway system. He participated in every important study that preceded the system and was staff director of Gen. Lucius Clay's committee that recommended its creation to President Eisenhower in 1956. Interstates contributed mightily to the reconfiguration of the Washington area, and a Turner innovation, the Shirley Highway express lanes devoted to car pools and buses, is regarded by highway experts as the best example of how to use a road efficiently.
Q. What were the basic concepts of the Interstate system?
A: The original concept was . . . that every major city had to have not only a route that penetrated the city but routes around the city. So in case a bomb dropped, like in Hiroshima, dropped in the middle of the city and created a lot of rubble, the military needed a route to go around the city, to bypass it.
Q. What was the plan for Washington?
A: The original Washington diagram was to go through the town. That route later became Interstate 95 . . . It was diagrammatically arranged to come in somewhere through the Northwest, pretty much along Connecticut Avenue . . . That routing got tangled up with where a bunch of people live . . . So, searching for ways to get in, we did drop over on the river. Then we ran into the buzzsaw, of course, with the environmental push at that time . . .
Q. What about the elimination of all the District of Columbia freeways? Was that a good idea?
Q. Did D. C. politicians have any choice politically?
A: Within the thinking at the time I don't suppose they did. No. There was so much just blind -- and I use that word I think correctly -- blind opposition to highways in general. Everybody who was associated with highways wore black hats. I think the pendulum has swung some now . . . I feel a little better now that it has.
Q. Where did the Beltway fit in?
A: The Beltway was a part of that whole process, providing this round route to meet some of the defense requirements. But also the fact that there was a tremendous amount of traffic in this New York-Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington-Richmond corridor that could bypass the Washington downtown area.
Q. There is one thing on the Beltway that has always mystified me, that S-curve business in Maryland up there between Wisconsin and Connecticut Avenues.
A: The only way you could get through the Maryland section . . . without tremendous neighborhood disturbance . . . was to go down the right-of-way of the Rock Creek Parkway . . . As . . . highway engineers, we were opposed to that, simply because it was winding. The curvature was such that . . . you couldn't negotiate it. You can't now and you never will.
Q. You would have had to take out, what, too many houses in Kensington and Wheaton and those areas?
A: It was an impossible community acceptance kind of a thing. They wanted the Beltway, but they wanted it somewhere else.
Q. Isn't that the case always?
A: Yeah. That's true. You can't blame them.
Q. What was the basis of your opposition to the Metrorail project?
A: My opposition to the Metro project was not because I'm a highway man and biased because I think that's the way the facts come out. My objection to it has been that it does not satisfy this,, these 10 million trips within the Washington metropolitan area that are made every day . . . The Metro system as planned and as now largely in operation . . . will still be able to satisfy only a small fraction of those trips. We could with the same $10 to $12 billion that we're putting into the Metro system to accommodate 10 percent of the trips in the area, for less money we could accommodate almost all of the trips . . . and do it basically on the basis of users paying for it. We don't have to worry about deficits and subsidies from somewhere else . . . That's my objection and that's the reason I'm a biased individual, and I'm sorry.
Q. What was the reason for the Shirley Highway express lanes?
A: Well, the main reason is because there was so much development that was occurring out in that corridor. The projected traffic volumes that were going to be generated were more than we could get onto anything we could build on Shirley Highway. We were up into the order of 12, 14 lanes . . . an obvious monstrosity of a highway. You can't operate a highway with that many lanes. So, we then came up with the idea of reversible lanes or control lanes of some kind in which we would reverse the direction in favor of the primary rush-hour traffic flow . . . Originally the idea was that and then we converted it . . . into busways.
Q: Was that also an attempt to defeat the Metrorail program?
A: Not to defeat it, but to show we had a better product.
Q: Why wasn't Interstate 66 placed on the Route 50 right-of-way?
A: We couldn't widen it . . . You'd have had to pay a full market price for every house on each side of Arlington Boulevard U.S. 50 , all the way out there, which gets you into something prohibitive.
Q: Is the I-66 that we have now an adequate road?
A: No. It's a compromise. It's doing a good job because of some of the requirements that they have on vehicle occupancy.
Q: You favor those kinds of requirements, high occupancy?
A: Yes . . . I was preaching this to people when I first came to Washington. To solve the problem, we should put a toll gate on the Memorial Bridge and Key Bridge and the Chain Bridge and charge $5, with a rebate of one buck for every person in the car . . .