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Key Events in AASHTO's History

Major Association Activities Impacts and Milestones
For about a year-and-a-half starting with its inception in 1914, AASHO strongly advocated for federal-aid funding for highways to promote the development of highway systems nationwide and to allow major routes to span state lines. Approximately 90 percent of what AASHO supported and included in a draft bill ended up in the Federal-aid Road Act of 1916, which President Woodrow Wilson signed into law on July 11, 1916.
  • This law set the stage for federal-aid highway legislation and the federal-state partnership in that effort.
  • The emphasis on the organization of state highway departments as a condition for the allotment of federal aid led to all of the then-existing 48 states to form such agencies by the end of 1917.
  • By the end of 1917, 26 states had submitted for approval a total of 92 projects encompassing 948 miles of roads altogether (although the U.S. entry into World War I would drain a lot of manpower and materials and also restrict projects only to those essential to the war effort).
In the aftermath of World War I, AASHO pushed for improved financing provisions for highway construction and other issues not adequately addressed in the 1916 law (while still retaining that law's general principles with respect to the federal-state partnership). What resulted was the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921, which President Warren G. Harding signed into law on November 9, 1921.
  • The law further highlighted the role of state highway departments by specifically requiring that those agencies must have sufficient powers and resources to carry out highway construction projects. The law's other key provisions included mandating that up to seven percent of state's total mileage must be expended only upon a primary system of connected interstate roads (thus bringing about the nationwide connected network of highways) and establishing a federal-state 50-50 matching ratio in funds.
  • The law provided for $75 million in funding for only one year. In the following year, however, Congress began the practice of authorizing federal aid for succeeding periods of a couple of years each.
  • The law launched an unprecedented period of work and improvements on the nation's highways throughout the remainder of that decade. Annual federal authorizations remained at $75 million through 1930 and, by that year, total highways expenditures at all levels of government reached $2.5 billion.
AASHO adopted on November 11, 1926, the United States Numbered Highways System in response to the ever-expanding interconnected network of highways set into motion by the 1916 and 1921 laws and the resultant need for a uniform approach to designating a portion of major roads nationwide.
  • At the time of this highways system creation, the network of roads falling within that classification totaled 96,626 miles. Over the next quarter-century, there was no formal tabulation maintained of the total mileage on a year-to-year basis. In 1951, however, a recompilation of all of those records was done and the total of all U.S. numbered routes — when taking into account various stretches in which two or more of those routes merge together — came to a grand total mileage of 145,143.
  • The latest figures indicate that there are now about 158,000 miles in that highways network.
In addition to the need for a uniform system of highways, AASHO also found itself in the 1920s grappling with the growing importance of improved and consistent traffic control devices for many of the nation's roads as highways mileage and the number of automobiles continued to expand. In 1927, the association released the Manual and Specifications for the Manufacture, Display, and Erection of U.S. Standard Road Markers. That document, which focused on rural roads, was the first national guidebook when it came to addressing standardized sign shapes and colors.
  • In 1930, the Manual on Street Traffic Signs, Signals, and Markings was released to set forth similar standards for roads in urban settings.
  • For the sake of even more consistency and not having to deal with two different documents for rural and urban environments, AASHO subsequently worked with the National Conference on Street and Highway Safety to develop a single standard for all highway settings. The result was the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD), which made its debut in 1935 and established road standards for both signs and pavement markings. There have been eight more editions of that edition published since then to take into account various changes relating to usage, size, and advances in technology
  • As part of the 1966 Highway Safety Act, federal transportation officials incorporated by reference the provisions of the MUTCD in its entirety for uniform standards for the states. On a worldwide scale, the MUCTD has also influenced the design and use of signs in such locales as Ireland and Australia.
AASHO provided strong support of the creation of the Interstate Highway System, with association officials spending considerable time before Congress testifying on behalf of that proposed program. The end result of that legislative process was the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law on June 29, 1956. Title I of that law authorized $25 billion as the federal share for the cost of building that highway network between 1957 and 1969, while Title II established the Highway Trust Fund and stipulated that the program would operate on a pay-as-you-go basis.
  • The Interstate Highway System (now officially known as the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways and part of the National Highway System of the U.S.) enlarged the federal and state roles in highway financing and construction. That network, which now has a total length of 47,182 miles, has become the nation's socioeconomic backbone. While representing only one percent of the nation's total highway mileage, it carries 24 percent of all traffic and 41 percent of all truck traffic.
  • The original portion of the Interstate Highway System took 35 years to complete at a cost of $114 billion.
  • AASHO has also played a critical role when it comes to various standardization features involving the Interstate Highway System. Within a couple of weeks after the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 became law, the association adopted geometric design standards for the Interstate highways that were subsequently approved by the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads. In 1957, AASHO developed a numbering scheme for that highway network (with the current policy dating back to 1973) and also adopted the Interstate Shield for placement along those routes.
On October 15, 1958, the AASHO Road Test at Ottawa, Illinois, was officially inaugurated. This two-year effort, which was sponsored by AASHO and administered by the Highway Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences, entailed conducting scientific studies of the performance of highway pavements when subjected to repeated passages of vehicles of various weights and sizes.
  • This initiative was actually the third in a series of road tests during that decade — the first had been conducted in Maryland and was sponsored by several northeastern and midwestern states, while the second was a cooperative effort of a group of western states that took place in Idaho. The road test set up in Ottawa, however, was the largest and most comprehensive of the three and its findings proved to be very influential when it came to overall highway design and construction.
On October 10, 1962, AASHO entered into an agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads and National Academy of Sciences to establish the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) as national program of highway research. NCHRP is financed by a combination of pooled state funds and federal aid.
  • NCHRP, spanning a half-century so far during which the number of vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. has grown from 770 billion to three trillion, has served as the association's research arm on a wide array of highway topics.
  • In NCHRP's first year alone, 34 projects valued at $3.5 million were initiated
On October 1, 1965, the AASHO Materials Reference Laboratory (AMRL) was established as a Research Associate Program at the National Bureau of Standards (now known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology) as a key step in the standardization of construction materials nationwide.
  • AMRL initially focused on soil, aggregate, and bituminous materials, but its programs have since grown to provide laboratory assessments as well for metals, plastic pipe, and spray-applied fire-resistive material and proficiency samples for road stripe paint.
  • The AASHTO Accreditation Program (AAP) was established in 1988 to provide formal recognition for construction materials testing laboratories that meet AASHTO requirements.
  • At present, AMRL serves more than 2000 laboratories.
In 1973, AASHO was renamed the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) to reflect the shift from serving as a highway-only organization to becoming an association that addresses all modes of transportation. This change reflected a trend shown a few years earlier when the U.S. Department of Transportation, encompassing various federal agencies with transportation responsibilities, was established.
  • In 1976, AASHTO established various new multimodal committees (including those dealing with aviation, water, and public transportation) to more fully implement its broadened mission focusing on all transportation modes.
  • AASHTO's evolving and expanded mission could also be seen in its taking on a more international orientation, shown in 1974 when two Canadian provinces — Ontario and New Brunswick — accepted invitations from the association to become affiliate members.
In 1986, a major stride in AASHTO's cooperative software joint development efforts — now collectively known as AASHTOWare — took place when AASHTO acquired the software of the Florida-based Info Tech's Bid Analysis and Software System (BAMS) to make it a proprietary computer software product for the benefit of participating member departments.
  • At present, transportation employees of all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Canadian transportation agencies use AASHTOWare products to help users meet various software demands on a daily basis.
On December 18, 1991, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), which authorized $121 billion for federal-aid highways, $1.6 billion for safety efforts, and $31.5 billion for transit. The law also gave unprecedented flexibility to state and local government officials to develop the best mix of transportation projects regardless of the specific modes involved. ISTEA's other key provisions included authorizing designation of the National Highway System, emphasizing choices to help attain National Ambient Air Quality Standards, and stressing such mobility alternatives as bicycling and walking.
  • ISTEA, with its far-reaching multimodal focus, was the most sweeping and significant restructuring of U.S. surface transportation programs since the creation of the Interstate Highway System in 1956.
In 1993, the Transportation and Civil Engineering (TRAC) Program was launched as an AASHTO program seeking to introduce careers in transportation and civil engineering to high school students through hands-on activities designed for use in math, science, social studies, and technology education classes. A major component of the program has entailed having state departments of transportation work with schools by providing resources for those classes and also having engineers serve as speakers and assist with various activities.
  • TRAC has a presence in a number of states and even internationally in terms of its outreach and activities aimed at making students more aware of transportation-oriented job opportunities. While originally focused on civil engineering, the program has expanded its emphasis to other transportation careers as well. In addition, another outreach program called Roadways into Developing Elementary Students (RIDES) has likewise been established to similarly cultivate interest among students in kindergarten through 8th grade in transportation careers.
On December 29, 1995, President Bill Clinton signed into law the National Highway System (NHS) Designation Act of 1995, which classified more than 160,000 miles of roads — including the Interstate Highway System — as the NHS. The law also restored $5.4 billion in funding to state highway departments, authorized Congress to prioritize highway system projects, eliminated all federal speed limit restrictions, and created a State Infrastructure Bank pilot program as a new means of financing road projects.
  • One of the law's key aims and accomplishments — building on the provisions of ISTEA four years earlier — involved bringing the Interstate Highway System under the larger NHS "umbrella" and therefore placing even higher priority on those highways and their various intermodal connections that collectively carry a huge share of the nation's people and goods. Then-FHWA Administrator Rodney Slater said that the NHS would "be the backbone of our national transportation network in the 21st century."
On June 9, 1998, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which was a $216 billion bill reauthorizing federal-aid highway, transit, and safety programs through Fiscal Year 2003.
  • TEA-21 required that various factors be included in regional transportation plans, including support for an area's economic vitality; an increase in the safety of the local transportation system for motorized and non-motorized users alike; expand accessibility and mobility options for both individuals and freight; protect the environment; enhance the integration of different modes of transportation; promote efficient operations; and emphasize the preservation of transportation networks already in place. Clinton said that TEA-21 would "strengthen America by modernizing and building roads, bridges, transit systems, and railways to link our people and our country together and to permit a freer flow of goods."
In a major effort to better serve its member departments and others with respect to wide-ranging services and needs, AASHTO formally rolled out a new website in January 2001. The association had already established a website presence a couple of years earlier, but the redesigned and enhanced version came with a greater scope of features and improved access to information pertaining to transportation news, programs, and events. The domain name for this new website, www.transportation.org, helped underscore the broadened scope and vision for that online presence as AASHTO made its way even further into the 21st century both chronologically and technologically.
  • Within a matter of weeks after the new-and-improved website was introduced — a debut that was characterized by a synchronized balloon-popping ceremony by staff members and the posting of the first of many feature pieces about member departments ("There's a Smooth Road Ahead in Kansas") — AASHTO's high-tech "window to the world" received approximately 55,000 visits and four million hits worldwide. The website and its use as an outreach tool have continued to grow exponentially in the time since. A strong example of all of that involves the online bookstore housed on that website and the interactive, searchable features of that bookstore that have considerably expanded the sales and customer base for AASHTO's publications and allowed for new state-of-the-art services (e.g., offering electronic versions of many documents prepared by the association).
On August 10, 2005, President George W. Bush signed into law the Safe, Affordable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act — A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), which was a $286.4 billion extension of both the ISTEA and TEA-21 reauthorization programs.
  • SAFTEA-LU became law after a dozen extensions and almost two years during which AASHTO and other stakeholders pushed for such a funding measure to be enacted. The law included a host of provisions for maintaining and enhancing such components of the nation's surface transportation infrastructure as the Interstate State Highway System, transit networks, bicycling and pedestrian facilities, and freight rail operations. Then-AASHTO President Jack Lettiere hailed SAFETEA-LU as "a major boost in mobility for all Americans" and an aid to "accelerate needed transportation projects, save lives, improve people's quality of life, create jobs, and improve many ways we do business."
On July 6, 2012, President Barack Obama signed into law the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which was a $105 billion, two-year funding and authorization measure focused on federal surface transportation spending.
  • MAP-21 contained a number of provisions that states and others had sought in recent years, including the consolidation of highway and transit programs, the establishment of a National Freight Policy and National Freight Network, continuation of the Highway Research Program, expansion of innovative finance mechanisms, modernization of the Metropolitan and Statewide Planning Process, enhancement of highway safety, and the streamlining of environmental processes without compromising environmental protections.