Workers honored for Interstate construction

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(Host) Fifty years ago, construction began on the nation’s interstate highway system.

The highway was an engineering achievement that brought new economic vitality to Vermont.

Today in Guilford, officials unveiled a plaque that commemorates the coming of the interstate and the people who made it possible.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) Governor Jim Douglas dedicated the plaque to the men and women who built the highway system, over the course of 25 years.

(Douglas) “As the most significant engineering accomplishment in Vermont during the 20th century it did much for the economic wellbeing on the state, May the efforts of all who worked on this project be long remembered.”

(Keese) The monument in Guilford was the first of five that will be installed in Interstate rest stops around the state.

The Guilford welcome center was picked for the ceremony because it’s on the first 6-mile stretch of I-91 to open in 1958. That’s just two years after the legislation that launched the system was launched by President Dwight David Eisenhower.

Dozens of former highway workers were on hand for the festivities. One quipped that it was a good thing they built it then because it never would have been finished today.

Frank Evans helped design the highway system for the state agency of transportation.

(Evans) “I think one thing to appreciate is the way we tried to make the highway fit into the countryside so as not to create scars for the future. I think we did a pretty good job of that. We provided some scenic areas where it’s possible to get a nice view of the country side.”

State and Federal officials who took the podium said Vermont’s interstates are not only scenic, but safe. One official said Vermont Interstates 91, 89 and 93 have among the lowest fatality rates in the country.

It’s also one of the few state highway systems unencumbered by tolls.

But Rod Hill, who worked on the system for 22 years, says it wasn’t all free. Thousands of homes and farms were taken to build the 320 miles of interstate.

One of Hill’s first jobs was the acquisition of land for the stretch of I-89 between White River and Randolph.

(Hill) “When I drive down that high way I can remember lots of things that happened that were very unpleasant. I had a guy commit suicide, one of my property owners. Guy, wheeled himself across the road and dumped himself in the White River. So there was a lot of agony along this interstate highway core 89-91 – personal tragedies. But the good for the better good of all the people in Vermont was the payoff.”

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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