Arkansas Trucking Association

You are here: Home Article Archive Highway Dollars and Sense: Mythbusting and Life Saving on the Essentiality of Open Roads

Highway Dollars and Sense: Mythbusting and Life Saving on the Essentiality of Open Roads

dollars and sense

Mythbusting and Life Saving on the Essentiality of Open Roads

Arkansas Trucking hwy history image

Ed. note: In November 2020, Arkansas voters will have the power to decide if the state should keep collecting a half-cent sales tax in order to raise over $205 million annually for state highways and bridges, plus an additional $43 million each for counties and cities. Leading up to the election, we’ll be covering the history and potential impact of that decision. We encourage you to educate yourself before you vote and to help educate your friends, family, neighbors and coworkers who will help Arkansas make critical choices about our state’s infrastructure. Read part 1 of this special series "Highway Dollars and Sense" on the political history of the half-cent sales tax for infrastructure.

A Myth

It’s a popular misconception that the driving force behind the Interstate highway system was civil defense.

Pres. Dwight Eisenhower was lobbying for a highway proposal in the 1950s when the threat of an atomic bomb was never far from any American’s mind. Evacuating the cities in the event of a nuclear attack wouldn’t be efficient on the country’s current roads; a smooth way out in emergencies was necessary.

This wasn’t the reason that the country needed to fund the construction of a well-connected series of highways. It was just a perk.

The real reason the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 was passed was civilian needs. Americans lives would be better when the economic development was supported by infrastructure that connected producers to consumers. People would be better off with safer roads to travel. Citizens could be better connected to people and places farther and farther from their homes, growing their communities beyond their backyards.

The largest public works project may be known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, but defense wasn’t the primary purpose. Highways would better people’s lives not just in emergency situations, but in everyday life.

Arkansas roads

In the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Robert Scoggin of the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, traced our current roads back as far as Native American trails. The infrastructure in the state  began with military roads. When Arkansas was just a territory, military roads moved troops in the mid-19th century. One of the most famous roads supported by the U.S. Army connected Memphis to Little Rock, allowing travelers to cross the swamps in eastern Arkansas in the 1820s.

Public roads followed. They were paths built by citizens in townships, so farmers could get their goods to a store or market. They didn’t connect towns yet, though. When Arkansas gained statehood in 1836, all public roads were declared public highways, and county courts were named responsible for constructing and maintain them. Statehood also prompted the construction of post roads for the U.S. Postal Service to enable mail delivery. “By 1871, the backbone of today’s road system was in place,” Scoggin wrote.

The existence of these routes shaped where soldiers trod and people settled, how far communities could sprawl and which businesses would grow. When the national highway system was built here, connecting this land to the rest of the country, the lives of the Arkansans continued to change.

Way of life

What our lives look like today is evidence of the roads that were made available to us. One of the missions of the Arkansas Trucking Association is to educate the public on the link between trucking—America's primary freight delivery system—and the standard of living they enjoy. The way our lives work is possible because of truck drivers and the quality of the roads they have to travel.

Right now, “the way our lives work” feels unfamiliar. As governments, businesses, and individual families and citizens navigate how to carry on during the outbreak of a novel coronavirus, COVID-19, what we considered our “way of life” 8-12 weeks ago looks different than our reality today.

A couple of months ago, ATA’s message of trucking’s necessity looked like this: roads for school buses to take kids to classrooms or sports events around the state, roads for farmers to get their crops to market, roads for families to connect with one another, roads for employees to commute to the office, roads for athletes to make their progress in the gym, roads to carry friends to gather ‘round the same table, roads for all of us to move freely in our lives. Roads play an essential role in the learning, playing, working, eating, sweating, relaxing, loving and living that we do every day.

In response to the virus outbreak in our communities, we do all that everyday stuff differently now. And to protect vulnerable populations from a virus, it may seem like we are doing it without roads.

But it isn’t so.

While our way of life may be changing, the ground is still paved beneath our feet, beneath the 18 wheels of the truck that is carrying supplies for hospitals to keep treating patients, food for grocers to keep feeding families, and toilet paper for, well, you know.

The myth?

The military value of efficient evacuation corridors is part-myth of our highway system.

But it’s worth noting that the streets that lead out of cities in an emergency are the same roads travelled by trucks who carry hope into places levelled by tragedy.

After every disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) calls on the trucking industry to deliver relief.

On April 12, Easter Sunday, six FedEx trucks arrived in North Little Rock with gloves, gowns, masks and face shields for health care providers around the state.

There are heroes still using the roads to shape our lives, to save our lives. Nurses, housekeeping, aides, EMT and doctors are rolling over the same paths, full of potholes, to do the work. Essential workers like truck drivers and many who support them are enjoying less congestion now that we are using highways less, but it won’t stay that way.

We are going to get back out there. We will create traffic on the way back to school and the office. 

The route back to our usual way of life will start on the crumbling, congested, but absolutely essential roads. They have carried us this far. If we want to keep this way in and way out available for future emergencies, we have to fund it.

In November, Arkansans will have the chance to vote yes on issue 1 to make permanent a half-cent sales tax that Arkansans already pay in order to provide over $205 million annually for state highways and bridges, plus an additional $43 million each for counties and cities.

It will take a lot of educated voters understanding how state infrastructure played an essential role in our lives this year, and every year, as we fight a global pandemic or just go back to work.

At Arkansas Trucking Association, we encourage you to make sure you are registered to vote, know your polling place, and learn about the issues.


Part 1: Why the Choice is Yours

Part 2: Mythbusting and Life Saving on the Essentiality of Open Roads

Contact Us

Arkansas Trucking Association
PO Box 3476 (72203)
1401 West Capitol Ave.
Suite 185
Little Rock, AR 72201

(501) 372-3462 | Phone
(501) 376-1810 | Fax

Our Mission

  • PROTECT the collective interests of trucking companies in the political and regulatory arenas.
  • PROMOTE the dynamics of trucking so that people have a better understanding of the link between America's primary freight delivery system and the standard of living they enjoy.
  • SERVE our members to help them to grow their business and their profits
You are here: Home Article Archive Highway Dollars and Sense: Mythbusting and Life Saving on the Essentiality of Open Roads