The idea that the father of the U.S. Interstate System — Dwight D. Eisenhower — never intended for his legacy to run through cities themselves always struck me as the kind of thing that was too good to check. Now, thanks to this article on urban freeways, I’m now aware of the actual documentary evidence, from April 8, 1960:
[The President] went on to say that the matter of running Interstate routes through the congested parts of the cities was entirely against his original concept and wishes; that he never anticipated that the program would turn out this way… [He] was certainly not aware of any concept of using the program to build up an extensive intra-city route network as part of the program he sponsored.
The implication is that the urban highways sold the program to reluctant urban Congressmen, concerned they weren’t getting return on their tax dollars in some warped version of subarea equity. If so, it was one of the most disastrous failures at representing constituents in the 20th Century.
To say these highways should never have been built is not to say they should necessarily all be torn out; entire cities have sprung from them. Still, it’s one of the underrated tragedies in American history that what we feared Soviet bombs would do to our cities, we in a small way did ourselves.