Politics and roads: The implementation process and the obstruction of the Federal-Aid Highway Program

Haisook Song, Fordham University


This thesis seeks to understand rising problems in the implementation of the Federal-Aid Highway Program from the mid-1960s onward. To this end, this study examines the implementation process of three failed urban interstate highway projects: the Vieux Carre Project in New Orleans, the Overton Parkway Project in Memphis, and Westway in New York City. In response to new public values surfacing in the 1960s, Congress enacted new federal highway, transportation, environmental, and administrative procedure laws. After 1965, these laws significantly complicated the implementation process, and primarily contributed to the projects' failure. An analysis of these laws suggests that six factors operated together against the success of the three examined projects. These factors include: (1) increased complexity and dispersal of power within the post-1965 process, (2) greater need for coalition building by state planners, (3) growing citizen activism against road-building, (4) creation of multifaceted federal concerns in project approval, (5) expanded judicial influence on federal project approvals, and (6) weakening of the pro-growth coalition in cities. When enacting new laws regarding the construction of federal-aid highways after 1965, Congress created a new legal and administrative framework allowing multiple actors to shape project implementation through a maze of procedures. As this post-1965 framework broadened the decision-making process to include new actors--such as federal judges and citizen activists--it also reduced the role of previously instrumental actors, such as state road-builders and pro-growth coalitions. Due to this power shift, the process was no longer based strictly on engineering or economic concerns, but became subject to historical and environmental agendas, now elevated to the federal arena. This study of implementation failure elucidates the fabric of American politics. Congress, for example, while trying to address myriad public interests, inadvertently crafted numerous junctures at which a highway project could become indefinitely snared. This reveals the paradox of "representation" versus "governability"--Schattschneider's emphasis on greater citizen participation versus Huntington's focus on effective government action. Put simply, as the government encourages public involvement in politics, it also must withstand possible ramifications of such involvement on the outcome of specific programs.

Subject Area

Public administration|Transportation|Law

Recommended Citation

Song, Haisook, "Politics and roads: The implementation process and the obstruction of the Federal-Aid Highway Program" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9903716.