FORT WORTH — Before red-light cameras, drive-through restaurants and reflective road signs, there was Bankhead Highway.
It was the first coast-to-coast route extending across the southern United States, beginning in 1916 at “mile zero” near the south lawn of the White House and ending in San Diego. The route included about 850 miles in Texas, carving a path that — although it now exists under many different names, including U.S. 80 and Interstate 20 — remains a vital corridor in cities such as Fort Worth and Mineral Wells.
“Imagine a world in 1916, to understand what it must have been like to say, ‘Hey, let’s start out at the White House and find our way to California,’” said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
The 100th anniversary of Bankhead Highway will be in 2016. Congress kicked off the federal-aid highway program in 1916, funding highways that connected the far reaches of the newly industrialized nation. The aid program essentially defined a method for government to fund roads — and it’s a guiding formula that remains in use today.
To celebrate the anniversary, the Texas Historical Commission is conducting a two-year study of Bankhead Highway and its importance to the Lone Star State. The study will include public outreach meetings across the state, including Sept. 12 in Fort Worth and Oct. 1 in Mineral Wells. The meetings are open to the public.
The historical commission expects its study to cost $1.4 million. The work will include a written history of the road, and a survey of gas stations, diners and any other landmarks in the path.
The historical road is named after John H. Bankhead, a senator from Alabama who was instrumental in passage of the federal-aid highway program.