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The Interesting History of Roads

We like to think of our transportation system as thoroughly new and modern and, by some accounts, it is. Our roads and ships are designed specifically for safety and comfort though not many people know the specifics of the ideas behind them. Actually, the history of our modern highway system is interesting in and of itself. Our modern highways, with their seal coating and sealing concrete and speed humps and reflective striping and concrete maintenance and power wash services, was built mostly in the early fifties and sixties as a large scale civil engineering project funded by the federal government. Before this time, most of the roads in the United States were a patchwork series of smaller roads that functioned well enough but were very meandering and occasionally hard to navigate. They worked where they had to but many cities lacked the critical central connection that they have today. The modern highway system was created to alleviate this where possible, a system of highly concentrated and well cared for roads that would provide easy and direct access to any important place someone may have needed to go. Of course, this highway system has its own issues even today, namely that the funding to upkeep it has not kept pace with budgets and other infrastructure issues. Even issues such as striping for parking lots have grown to fairly outsize proportions under deflated budgets and lack of civil upkeep but that is an entirely different discussion. One we don’t quite have time to get into here. The point is that these roads were important when they were first built and they are still incredibly important now. Most major transportation and shipping in the United States happens over these roads and our cities would fall apart very quickly without the massive amount of food and goods that are only guaranteed safe passage if the roads are well kept. Sure, there is a lot of shipping done by literal ships and a good deal of plane cargo as well but transportation of goods by truck is still by far the most common way to get goods from one place to another. Everything from striping for parking lots to striping for highway safety depends on our keeping these roads clear and safe. But, you might ask yourself, where did the idea for our modern highway system come from? It didn’t come from nowhere, after all. There were roads long before the United States came along, transportation systems built by other far older cultures. So what is the story of our roads came to be?
Rome, Roads and the History of Transportation
Even before Rome, there were roads. No parking lots and striping for parking lots and solar powered highways, of course, but still roads. Still just a strip of stone or dirt that made a path from one place to another. The roads that most ancient cultures built, however, were pretty simple and only connected places in a very short area. One town or fiefdom might be connected to another by a few short dirt roads or stone roads. One small kingdom might have had a neighbor that it traded with via these short roads. In very rare circumstances you may have had long general roads that connected far off places. The Silk Road is one such example although this wasn’t always a literal road and it was often hard, or impossible, to make it from one end to the other. Too dangerous in the wilds and too many bandits willing to attack whoever might be just passing through. It was Rome, however, that really started the trend of highly cared for and intricate roads. The Romans, of course, are famous for their roads but not many people understand just how intricate and extensive their roads really were. Sure, they didn’t quite have striping for parking lots but they still had roads that stretched from towns in the near Middle East all the way to places as distant as northern France. The Romans also knew that well kept roads were one of the biggest advantages they had so they focused a lot of civil energy on their upkeep. As they did, so did we.

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