JEFFERSON CITY - One hundred years ago, just after President Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated and as women campaigned for the right to vote, the Missouri General Assembly created the State Highway Department. Because on March 22, 1913, the precursor to today's Missouri Department of Transportation came to be, Governor Jay Nixon recently issued a proclamation recognizing the 100th anniversary of the Missouri Department of Transportation.
"At that time, most road building equipment was mule-powered," said MoDOT interim director Dave Nichols. "Today, our skilled crews and contractors use machines to do much of the work. There is even a machine that can pull up old pavement, recycle it, and put it back down all in one sweep. The engineers of yesteryear would be amazed by what is possible just 100 years past their time."
Henry Ford began the nation's first moving assembly line in 1913, an innovation that soon made automobile ownership affordable for more Americans. More roads were needed...and fast.
Legislators recognized that statewide coordination was needed to build a road system to connect Missouri's cities. Just a few years later, in 1921, the legislature established the bi-partisan State Highway Commission so that transportation decisions could be made on a statewide basis without regard to political affiliation.
Highways soon made it easier for people and goods to travel from town to town. Into the 1950s however, many connecting roads were still simply dirt or gravel. On rainy days, school buses sank deep into the mud of unpaved roads. When the department took over 12,000 miles of county highways in 1952, 95 percent of Missourians were brought within two miles of a hard surfaced road and finally made all areas of the state accessible.
By 1956, Missouri awarded the nation's first interstate highway contracts and began construction of Interstate 70 in St. Charles. Today, MoDOT is responsible for 33,702 miles of state highways and more than 10,000 bridges. The state boasts 125 public-use airports, 4,800 miles of mainline railroad track, the third-largest inland port in the nation, more than 70 million transit trips per year and more than 600 miles of shared-use paths for bicyclists and pedestrians.
The State Highway Department and the State Department of Transportation merged in 1980, bringing highways, rail, water, air and transit into one department - the Missouri Highways and Transportation Department, renamed MoDOT in 1996.
"We think it is important to stop and realize that we stand on the shoulders of those who built this system of roads, bridges, rails, river ports and airports," said Nichols. "They knew that transportation work never ends and trust us to keep it moving. We do our best to prove ourselves worthy of their example."