I started my career as a highwayman in 1960 when I went to
work for the Nevada State Highway Department on the first Interstate 80
construction project in Nevada at Verdi.
After working in various capacities, I was appointed to work
in the NDOT construction office in Carson City. On a team with two other
engineers, we processed payments to the contractors and wrote the final reports
on all the highway construction projects statewide. This involved traveling to
the construction field offices on every project along the route of Interstate
80 in Northern Nevada and Interstate 15 in southern Nevada.
In the 1960s through the 1980s, the largest highway
construction program ever attempted was commenced. This crossed over the Great
American Desert of Nevada. It included construction of the Interstate 80 across
Northern Nevada connecting Verdi, Reno, Sparks, Lovelock, Winnemucca, Battle
Mountain Carlin, Elko, Wells and Wendover. At about the same time, the
Interstate 15 route across the southern part of the state through Las Vegas to Mesquite
was being constructed.
The population of the American West had reached the level
where major east-west highway transportation could no longer be handled on
narrow, two-lane highways winding their way through the mountains and deserts
of Nevada. Truck transportation had largely replaced railroad transportation
due to the convenience of direct point-to-point delivery. Automobile
transportation had blossomed due to westward migration and the growing tourist industry.
Increasingly, political pressure forced the creation of the
Interstate Highway system to meet the needs of the traveling public. Other
states had begun their Interstate systems much earlier. Nevada was often
considered nothing more than a vast desert that had to be crossed in order to
reach California in the least time possible.
Certainly, a state with a comparatively small population
could not afford to construct the hundreds of miles of Interstate highways
across such vast distances without some financial assistance. People and
freight had to have good roads to travel through this rugged country. The only
way this could be accomplished was through federal funding assistance.
Revenue for the construction program was obtained mostly
from state and federal gasoline and diesel fuel taxes. The Federal Highway
Trust Fund was created to provide this assistance. In Nevada, the funds were
allocated on a 90-10 percentage basis with the state having to provide only 10%
of the funds.
The demand for personnel with the required skills to design,
engineer and build this system created a sudden strain on the work forces
available at that time. As a result, a curious collection of characters stepped
forward to fill the demand and staff the crews of contractors, surveyors,
inspectors, testers, engineers and design personnel.
The tremendous influx of money pouring into small Nevada
towns created conditions similar to the old mining camp boomtown days. Small
town bars, restaurants, motels, and boarding houses thrived on the windfall of
prosperity brought about by the construction crews.
The only major cities on the southern I-15 route were Las
Vegas and Mesquite. Since construction of the system, many of the smaller towns
have grown to become substantial larger communities, primarily due to the
prosperity brought about by proximity to the interstate.
Dennis Cassinelli is a Dayton author and historian. You can order his books at a discount on his blog at denniscassinelli.com.