And even as U.S. transportation officials grow increasingly unwilling to use federal dollars to construct new highways, the interstate system still serves as a symbol of American romanticism. Case in point: That closing scene of Good Will Hunting, where Matt Damon’s character drives west on I-90 to (spoiler alert!) win back his love in California.
And the nationwide road network is an endless source of fascination for transportation nerds around the country: One Reddit user even created a gif showing every interstate highway showing up on a map of the United States, one-by-one (though the highways weren’t built in numerical order).
When it was launched, the system was noteworthy for its size, but also for its funding method: Newly-constructed roads were free, a major departure from what had come before. The construction was paid for by a federal gas tax, and the new nationwide network was viewed as a symbol of the end of the age of tolling.
“Toll roads obviously were an expedient, and there seems little need now for their further development,” the Washington Post wrote in 1956, two days after Eisenhower’s bill got the O.K. “The toll road boom has ended.”
That hasn’t turned out to be the case: States around the country are increasingly eyeing tolls as a funding solution to transportation woes and the diminishing value of the gas tax, and a bill passed in Congress last year added extra support to a pilot program that would allow states to experiment with tolling on federal highways that are currently free-of-charge.
And 60 years later, with the development of fuel-efficient and electric vehicles that don’t contribute to gas tax coffers … the political battle over how to pay for the hexagenarian system is just getting started.