Beyond the Road: Texas Leads the Way after World War II

A Fresh Start at the End of World War II

Texas and the rest of the nation rejoiced when World War II ended in 1945. Victory energized the population as the war improved the economy. Life suddenly felt very different from the Great Depression in the 1930s. The road ahead was ripe with opportunity. The Texas Highway Department (THD) changed the state’s highway system in this post-war era more than any other time in its history.

A Real Roadblock

Construction stalled during the war due to serious shortages of concrete, steel, and manpower. As soldiers returned and the population of drivers increased, people were on the move. The Texas transportation system was a real roadblock. In 1945 Texas had more dirt roads than paved. These outdated roads meant that drivers risked unsafe bridge crossings or getting stuck in deep mud during the rainy season. Texas growth created a critical need for a new network of roads and bridges. It was a challenge as big as Texas.

THD Ensures Safe Crossing into a New Era

THD anticipated this transportation problem and planned for it during the War. Gone were the days of wartime shortages. With new funding from the federal government, plans for roads and bridges were put into motion.

In order to connect Texas’ many rural communities, the farm to market road (FM road) system became a THD priority. THD began building 36,000 miles of roads that connected farmers and ranchers with growing cities. The project helped rural communities become less isolated and bring their products to market.

With that many new roads THD had another challenge – building all of the river and stream crossings for the new or upgraded routes! Bridges that were safe and quick to build were badly needed, not just on FM roads but on new freeways and improved city streets as well.

From Postwar into the Future

Between 1945 and 1965 cooperative research teams at THD, the University of Texas at Austin, and Texas A&M University rose to the challenge. These collaborations produced many innovative ideas. Some were completely new, while some were based on work done elsewhere in the country and adapted to the needs of Texas. The teams also took advantage of technological advances like prestressed concrete, neoprene pads and high tensile bolts.

Combined with the know-how of the engineers, new technology allowed for the creation of brand new bridge designs. The bridges could be built inexpensively, safely, and quickly. In fact, two new types of bridges were invented right here in Texas: the pan-formed girder bridge and the FS slab bridge. Thousands of these types of bridges were built all over Texas.

THD engineering even allowed for clever adjustments to market pressures. For example, when the Korean War created another steel shortage, engineers focused on building prestressed concrete bridges. When steel was available again, engineers designed lighter and stronger steel bridges that used less steel and were cheaper.

TxDOT Continues THD’s Legacy

THD’s hard work paid off. By September 1965 Texas had over 15,000 new bridges – that’s a rate of 2 bridges a day for two decades! The pre-war sparse network of muddy roads that took years to upgrade were a thing of the past. THD’s bridge program supported growing communities, made valuable connections between rural and urban areas, and helped Texas become an economic powerhouse. Today, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) keeps going Beyond the Road as it continues to support connections that matter to Texans.

Post-1945 Bridge Highlights

Texas Leads the Way

Between 1945 and 1965, the Texas Highway Department constructed more than 15,000 new bridges and thousands of miles of roads to upgrade infrastructure and serve an expanding population. To learn more about some of the most unique of these historic bridges from 1945–1965, see the Post-World War II Bridge Highlights.

TxDOT Post-World War II Bridges Video Series

Photo Gallery

Click on any image to view the photo gallery.

  • Pedestrian Crossing over Memorial Drive, Houston, Harris County. The City of Houston pioneered uses for the new technology of prestressed concrete. Typical bridges of this type have multiple box girders across their width. But the Memorial Drive pedestrian bridge only needed to be one box girder wide to accommodate people instead of cars. It is the only known example of its kind built in the mid-20th century. (Image from Patrick Feller, CC BY 2.0)