January 21 2015

Over the coming months, the Eno Center for Transportation will be placing online a large number of historic documents pertaining to U.S. transportation policy and funding. The first of these is particularly appropriate today.

One hundred years ago today, on January 21, 1915, the Congressional Joint Committee on Federal Aid in the Construction of Post Roads issued its final report to Congress. The report of the Joint Committee represented, by far, the largest assemblage of information regarding roads ever published in the United States. Under the leadership of Senate chairman Jonathan Bourne, Jr. (R-OR) and House vice chairman D.W. Shackleford (D-MO), the final report included detailed information as to the extent and condition of roads in all 48 states and 19 foreign countries; the methods of financing and oversight of road construction and maintenance in said states and countries, detailed economic data on U.S. freight movement, and a complete legislative history of roads legislation in Congress to that point.

Most importantly, the Joint Committee’s report used that information to support a detailed justification for a new and unprecedented federal role in providing financial aid to states for road improvement, and even included eight possible formulas to apportion such aid to the states (Tables B through I in Chapter IX). The following year, Congress would follow through on the Joint Committee’s recommendations and enact the Federal Aid Roads Act of 1916 (39 Stat. 355) establishing the first-ever federal program for aid to states for roads. (The law used the apportionment formula from Table C of the Joint Committee’s report.)

The report is a valuable piece of history that helps explain why Congress decided to get involved in the first place in helping states build roads.