- Dec 2013
Also IIRC from 1941 to 1945 Detroit produced virtually no automobiles. So after 1945 there was a staggering pent up demand for cars which naturally meant an emphasis on highways to drive them on.As far as I know, the Interstate Highway System was begun under President Eisenhower who had had some knowledge of the German Autobahn. FDR had built a highway that also mimicked the autobahn but at a much less ambitious scale.
Our cities are much less dense than many cities in Europe and our distances between cities are greater as well. When the Interstate Highway System (IHS) was started there were few roads that connected the country in an East-West direction and those roads were not limited access highways as the IHS is. Today, of course, the entire country is connected North-South and East West.
The US already had the biggest rail freight network in the world when passengers began abandoning this network in favor of private automobiles. This was likely also a function of tremendous pentup demand that took off in the postwar period - “See the USA in your Chevrolet” (Dinah Shore). The rail network didn’t evaporate in the meantime; it just became a mostly freight system which I’m sure the train companies much prefer.
The US (and Canada) had no war damage and so were well positioned post war to supply much of the world with its manufactured goods. What this means is that there was no post-war depression following WW2. Industry was working full tilt to supply the veterans returning from the war and its Allies who were digging their way out of the rubble. Americans went out and bought cars to give themselves the mobility that no fixed rail can ever impart. The Marshall Plan was a major driver in Europe’s recovery from the war and it kept US industry supplying goods to Europe while also supplying the local economy.
Also, nuclear war fears drove the interstate highway system in part. It promised the ability to evacuate major cities quickly (relatively). And the original proposals was that each interstate on and off ramp would have a nuclear shelter built under it.