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Letter to the Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Works, on the Federal-Aid Highway Bill.

August 17, 1950

My dear Senator Chavez:

I am writing you regarding the Federal-Aid Highway Bill (H.R. 7941), which has been reported by the Senate Committee on Public Works.

The bill, in its present form, would increase the Federal-aid highway program some $1200 million a year above the January Budget recommendations. In view of the rising cost of the defense program now contemplated, I am concerned about these increases in the highway program. Of course, the Committee's hearings on this legislation were held before the invasion of Korea and the Committee's report was filed before there was a clear indication of the budgetary requirements needed to meet the changed international situation. Because of the different circumstances which now exist, I would like to ask your Committee to consider recommending certain changes in the provisions of this bill, as reported, before it is finally acted upon by the Senate.

In view of our increased defense requirements, I have already directed the Federal agencies to review their programs for the purpose of modifying them wherever practicable to lessen demands for supplies and services in competition with defense needs. One of the programs under review is Federal aid for highway construction. This is one of our major activities in the field of civil public works.

By authorizing a material increase in the level of Federal highway aid, H.R. 7941 seems inconsistent with the effort to hold down non-defense spending. I believe it is essential that the amounts provided in the bill for the Federal-aid program be reduced at least to the level of $500 million originally recommended in my Budget Message and that the amounts earmarked for secondary roads be reduced at least to the level of $150 million contained in the bill as passed by the House. In addition, I believe that Federal-aid funds should be limited to the Federal-aid system rather than used for local or county roads which are not a part of that system.

Furthermore, it would seem desirable that the present matching provisions requiring equal sharing by the States and the Federal Government be maintained for all projects. H.R. 7941 changes, in a number of important ways, the matching and other administrative provisions of prior Federal-aid highway legislation. These provisions have recognized the mutual interests of both the States and Federal Government in the improvement of important highways. The Federal-aid program has been very effective in the past and there seems to be no compelling reason to increase the Federal share in the program at this time.

The bill would also permit the use of Federal-aid highway funds which may become available in the future to retire bonds issued by State and local governments for certain road construction. It seems particularly undesirable for the Federal Government to encourage a general acceleration of road building by underwriting highway construction bonds at a time when we are attempting to conserve manpower and materials for our defense effort.

Finally, the $25 million provided in the bill for access roads to military establishments, seems excessive at this time. These roads are intended to speed up traffic movements to and from certain installations not now readily accessible. The need for these roads has been carefully reviewed within the Executive Branch and it appears that an authorization of $10 million would be adequate for the construction of all access roads now urgently needed.

In light of the international situation and our increased defense requirements, I hope that your Committee will feel that it can recommend changes in H.R. 7941 along the lines I have suggested.

Sincerely yours,

HARRY S. TRUMAN

[Honorable Dennis Chavez, Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Works, Washington, D.C.]

Note: On September 7, 1950, the President approved the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1950 (64 Stat. 785).

Harry S. Truman, Letter to the Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Works, on the Federal-Aid Highway Bill. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230154

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