January 24, 1958 Cabinet Meeting on Highways

January 24, 1958 Cabinet Meeting on Highways

August 17, 2017  | ENO CENTER FOR TRANSPORTATION

This PDF file pertains to President Eisenhower’s Cabinet meeting held on January 24, 1958. One of the items of discussion was the new Interstate highway program, the construction schedule for which had slowed down since the enactment of the financing law in June 1956 because of the “Byrd Test” requirement that new spending be limited to anticipated Highway Trust Fund tax receipts.

Confidential notes taken of the meeting report that President Eisenhower:

“went on to say that since the gas tax was now only 3 cents and it was many, many times that amount in other countries, why not raise it one-half cent to help make up the [Highway Trust Fund] deficit. He talked a moment on the need to finish the program on the 13-year basis since that was the original ballyhoo, the original promise to the people. He said he wanted to get back to the original schedule for many reasons, one of them being to finish the roads, since in his opinion they would have to be rebuilt within 25 years, he thought they should be finished before they started the rebuilding.”

The Administration’s desire to accelerate the Interstate construction schedule led to a game of one-upmanship on the topic with Congress (led by Senator Albert Gore, Sr. (D-TN)). The eventual product was the the 1958 Highway Act, which many of Eisenhower’s advisors urged him to veto on the grounds that it spent too much, too quickly without a revenue increase. (See the full discussion of whether or not to veto the bill, here.) Congress later had to enact another cent-per-gallon gasoline tax increase in 1959 because the accelerated construction schedule required by the 1958 law was bankrupting the Highway Trust Fund.

This 15-page PDF file consists of 4 documents:

  • A 2-page memo to President Eisenhower dated the day before the meeting to let him know of the topics on the meeting agenda.
  • The 4-page official minutes of the Cabinet meeting.
  • A 7-page digest of the Cabinet discussion on highways marked “need to know” and taken (probably) by John Bragdon, who was Eisenhower’s Special Advisor for Public Works Planning. (The document was found in Bragdon’s files and the handwriting looks like his.)
  • A 2-page “Record of Action” dated the day after the meeting summarizing the actions taken in the meeting.
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