The Interesting History of Roads

April 24th, 2013 by

Like me, a lot of people spend an unhealthy amount of time obsessing over cars. Cars are just plain cool, from the science behind how they run, to the awesome feats they can perform. If I’m ever in a bad mood, a good rural drive through the country always cheers me up.

We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what makes modern driving possible, though. An effective system of roads has always been the key to the success of any civilization. Here’s a look at how roads developed and what’s in store for the future.

All Roads Lead to Rome

In the western world, no one beat the Romans when it came to architecture. A strong network of roads was how the Romans connected and controlled their vast continental empire. When Roman legions weren’t busy off fighting wars or occupying territory, they traded in their swords for shovels and helped to build this large network.

One of the most famous names in Rome’s architectural history was a blind road engineer by the name of Appius Cladius, whom the famous Appian Way is named after. During the construction of the road that bears his name, he would walk barefoot across finished portions, feeling carefully for stones that stuck up above the rest. The result is a smooth roadway that is largely intact until this day. In fact, an extraordinary amount of Roman roads are still in good condition today all over Europe.

Highways to Expressways

Go to a small town and someone is sure to tell you the place used to be thriving before the expressway rerouted traffic away from it. Expressways, or controlled-access highways, had been in planning stages since the early 20th century, but did not get approved until during World War II. A hand drawn map by President Roosevelt kicked off the project with an idea for eight “super highways.” Construction would not begin until the mid 1950’s, though.

There is a popular rumor that says every one in five miles of interstate is straight, intentionally constructed this way so airplanes can land. Though interesting, there was never any law or plan for this, making it false. Planes have made emergency landings on the interstate, though.

The Future of Roads

There are a lot of interesting proposals for the future of road technology. There is serious talk about “smart roads” that are effectively large light displays that can relay messages, change lane set up, and redirect traffic. There is also one idea to turn roads into solar panels, letting them convert the solar energy they are already absorbing into electrical power.