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Interstate 29

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It was early May in 1960 that the northernmost stretch of I-29 was dedicated. It was the first US Interstate to connect to an international border. But even though the stretch was dedicated, it still wasn't ready. It would take seventeen more years for the highway to be completed.

It might be hard for a lot of listeners to imagine a world without interstate highways, or construction projects taking so long, but this was pretty typical for the “highway boom” of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. In fact, with the completion of this stretch, North Dakota became the first state in the union to finish its interstate system.

But how did this national project begin? The idea first became popularized in 1939 at the World's Fair in New York. Futurama was an exhibit by Norman Bel Geddes — and sponsored by General Motors. It was a 30,000 square foot model of a utopian vision of “America in 1960.” Attendees explored 408 separate sections as passengers in a fake airplane, gliding slowly over the miniature cities, countryside, and, most importantly, criss-crossing highway systems complete with tiny moving cars. When participants left they got a button that said “I have seen the future.”

Geddes predicted that by 1960, cars could drive 100 miles per hour on beautifully constructed highways. He also believed that by 1960, these fast highways would be safe because “automatic radio control” would maintain distance between the cars.

While those predictions were ambitious, North Dakota none-the-less saw remarkable changes as the state went from muddy two lane highways to a 75 mph Interstate. It would be interesting to know what the next 60 years will bring.

Dakota Datebook by Leewana Thomas

Sources:

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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