Ode to the American Freeway

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History, Landscape, Beauty on the American Freeway is a brief summary of the many positives of freeways for the U.S. University of Illinois at Chicago professor emeritus of Art history, Architecture and Urban Planning Robert Bruegmann developed a well written piece with great photos as a bonus.  Here are a couple of the opening passages.

Freeways, particularly urban freeways, have had a bad press for several decades now.  They are accused of despoiling scenery, destroying habitat and causing urban sprawl.  Many observers report with glee on the latest news of a small segment of urban freeway being dismantled.

This blanket condemnation makes it easy to overlook the remarkable contribution that these freeways have made to the American economy and to American culture.  It is hard to imagine the growth in productivity in the country during the postwar years without these roads, which vastly increased the mobility of goods and people and connected parts of the country together in ways that were unprecedented.

The constant criticism also makes it difficult to appreciate these roads as cultural artifacts and a wonderful way to see the country.” [Link to the article.]

Remember that free in freeway comes from free-from-interruptions such as stop signs and traffic signals; not free-of-charge for their use.  Whether by gas tax, toll or other taxation, freeways need to be paid for. But keep in mind that:

  • One passenger mile on the freeway costs about 40 cents all inclusive (i.e., cost for the design, construction and maintenance of the freeway plus the vehicle to use on it).
  • One passenger mile on transit (all inclusive) costs 400 cents (and the calculation assumes that buses use the roads for free.)
  • All goods, delivery and emergency services run on freeways. None of them run on transit.





  1. No, no, no! Professor you have missed the point again. They are called "free"ways to contrast them with the toll roads that preceded them, the Turnpikes, that are still around. Stop making up stuff!

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