27 Apr 2022


History of Government Investment in American Infrastructure

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Academic level: College

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Presently, the US government is performing dismally when it comes to investment in infrastructure, as most infrastructures are provided and maintained by the private sector. Experts observe that America’s infrastructure is deteriorating and that the federal government must step in. However, looking at the history of the US government involvement in investment initiatives, the federal government seemed to have invested a lot in the country’s infrastructure in the 20th century. From President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the bill to construct interstate road networks, the construction of Hoover Dam, to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the US federal government in the 20th century demonstrated a willingness to invest in infrastructure that had direct impact on the lives of the citizens. 

In a speech to the Governors’ Conference, President Eisenhower requested for a Grand Plan that would see the America’s road transport infrastructure upgraded. According to President Eisenhower, an upgraded road system would ease congestion, improve road safety, boost productivity, and eliminate inadequacies that challenged the country’s defenses and preparedness in the event of a disaster (Weingroff, 2017). The economic reasons behind the construction if the interstate highways were clear, as shown by the Clay Committee Report (Weingroff, 2017). According to the Report, expanding and upgrading the interstate highways would contribute substantially to the US national product given employment and industries across the country were directly related to road transport.

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Up until the call by Eisenhower to invest in road infrastructure, the Federal Government was spending $47 billion, which fell short of the expected $101 billion (Weingroff, 2017). Therefore, the government saw deemed it necessary to close the gap by pumping more money into infrastructure. Relying on a previous report, the Clay Committee estimated that the interstate mileage would cost the government $23 billion. The urban mileage would consist of single routes connecting to the cities. Eisenhower’s plan recognized the need to include major feeder routes in the interstate highway Grand Plan, as most did not receive government funding at the time. Although it would take a year before the commencement of project, by 1955, all the relevant bodies tasked with overseeing investment and infrastructure development were in agreement that the country needed the Interstate Highways. Although President Eisenhower’s Grand Plan lacked financing mechanisms initially, his plan would come to be executed in full leading to the construction of the safest road network in the country, if not the whole world (Weingroff, 2017).

President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act citing it as “the only valid passport out of poverty.” The investment, which ran between 1980 and 1990 in what was dubbed Title I would cost the US Federal Government $70 billion in 2011 dollars. ESEA was a key investment in America’s education system that was aimed at increasing the competitiveness in the provision and delivery of high-quality education (Erickson, 2012). Although it was designed to operate at the State and local level, the Federal Government played a pivotal role, especially via funding. ESEA Title I focused on public schools with high concentration of children from low-income backgrounds with the primary aim of lifting the low-income settlements out of poverty in the long-term. 

The original idea behind the institution of ESEA was to reduce the skill gap in reading and writing, and math between children from low-income households who attended public schools and those from privileged backgrounds whose parents or guardians could afford private education (The Social Welfare History Project, n.d). The investment was rolled out in phases, with Title II focusing on equipping both private and public schools by building libraries and funding preschool programs. Tittle III, on the other hand was focused on promoting adult education, special education, and other support services while Tittle IV provided for the allocation of $100 million for training and educational research (The Social Welfare History Project, n.d).

The construction of Hoover Dam in 1931 has been lauded as one of the largest investment ever to be undertaken by the US Federal Government. Up until the government invested in the construction of the magnificent dam, Lax Vegas was merely an undeveloped desert valley between California and Utah. However, the construction of the dam saw Las Vegas establish itself a one of the major economic hubs in the region. The aim of the investment was to protect citizens against over flooding and to generate electricity (Erickson, 2012). Being a desert, the dam provided water for irrigation, which improved the lives of the locals significantly. Although the project has attracted criticism as being one of the most misplaced and ill-timed project of all-time given it was undertaken at the height of the great depression, it had immediate economic effects to the local men and women, as it provided much-needed 20,000 jobs (Erickson, 2012).

History shows that the US Federal Government in the 20 undertook more investments in infrastructure than it has done in the 21st century. While some investments such as the construction of Hoover Dam and the upgrading and expansion of Interstate Highways were tangible and yielded immediate results, some investments such as the ESEA were intangible, and equally important, and would take years before its fruits were see. Even as America ushers in a new administration with somewhat rapid policies, it remains to be seen whether the Federal Government will go back to funding more infrastructure as it did in the 20th century. 


Erickson, J. (2012January, 6). Top 10 U.S. Government investments in 20th century American competitiveness. Retrieved from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/2012/01/06/10930/top-10-u-s-government-investments-in-20th-century-american-competitiveness/

The Social Welfare History Project. (n.d). Elementary and Secondary Education Act 

of 1965. Retrieved from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/programs/education/elementary-and-secondary-education-act-of-1965/

Weingroff, R. (2017 January, 31). Original intent: Purpose of the interstate system

1954-1956. Retrieved from https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/originalintent.cfm

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