What Texas Highways Say About How We Interact With the World Around Us

Dec 2, 2016

From Texas Standard:

Willie Nelson may have sung it best :

I saw miles and miles of Texas, all the stars up in the sky

I saw miles and miles of Texas, gonna live here till I die

That’s his ode to the open roads that crisscross the Lone Star State. Nelson’s enjoyed many a road trip across the expansive state. And Nelson's been down a lot of them, as he writes in the forward of a new book celebrating Texas road development: “Small footpaths that cut through cow pastures or cotton farms slowly turned into gravel roads that turned into highways that eventually turned into interstates.”

In “Miles and Miles of Texas: 100 Years of the Texas Highway Department,” authors Carol Dawson and Roger Allen Polson give a comprehensive history of the government agency responsible for building and maintaining our roadways.

Polson worked for the Texas Department of Transportation of many years as a writer and editor. Part of his job was interviewing people at all levels of the department. As time went on, he says he got more and more interested in why people stayed in the highway world.

When Polson approached Dawson about writing a book together on the highway department, she says her first impulse was to snore loudly.

“And then the lightbulb went on over my head,” Dawson says. “I thought this is a marvelous opportunity to tell the story of Texas history through road development because road development is civilization."

Road infrastructure has changed how we interact with the world around us, Dawson says.

“Good roads have changed our perception of landscape and of time and space,” she says. “When we travel on a smooth road going really fast, as we do especially in a high-speed area, we don't pay attention anymore to what we're passing. It's just a glimpse. It's a glimmer. And the fact that the way roads used to be compelled that attention from us to connect with the landscape in the way we did back then – there's a huge difference.”

Both Dawson and Polson say our road system tells us a great deal of what we value as a community.

"The thing that strikes me is not just the sophistication of the system in the urban areas, it's the roads in Texas that go to beautiful places,” Polson says. “You go down the river road in the Big Bend region, or some of the roads in east Texas, or down in the hill country, and basically they're built to get someplace beautiful – and I've always been intrigued by that."

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.