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50 Years of Building Communities

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) was created on July 1, 1970.  For 50 years, we've been building communities across Pennsylvania.  

Help Us Tell PennDOT's Story

Through the years, PennDOT's dedicated employees have been the backbone of our organization.  If you have a friend or family member who worked for the department when we began, we’d love to hear their stories.  Please fill in our 50th Anniversary Submission Form (open it in Chrome), and we'll do the rest! If you have questions, email us at DOTcomm@pa.gov.

Exploring Our History

At PennDOT, we're continuously looking for innovative solutions to improve transportation for the future, but we still realize the importance of our history.  At times, the examples of our predecessors can inform solutions to modern challenges.

 Accordion

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1930's

Overview

In 1930, as the nation slipped into the Great Depression, Pennsylvania elected the 66 year old Gifford Pinchot to his second term as governor.

In an era when cars and trucks were becoming increasingly common in rural areas (there were 10,000 trucks on Pennsylvania farms by 1920), many country roads were unpaved. Pinchot campaigned on a promised to improve rural roads.

Pinchot believed public investment in the rural road network would improve access to markets for Pennsylvania farmers, and the construction jobs and subsequent increase in commerce would stimulate the Commonwealth’s flagging economy.


Get the Farmer Out of the Mud


"Get the farmer out of the mud!" was the rallying cry heard in 1931 as the rural roads program was inaugurated in York County, Pennsylvania. The program, initiated by Governor Gifford Pinchot, was as innovative as it was ambitious. It took possession of some 20,000 miles of the Commonwealth's informal network of dirt and gravel rights-of-way, converting local roads to state roads and making them eligible for improvement. 

The Rural Roads Program

The Rural Roads Program created public-private sector partnerships to finance its projects. The projects emphasized manual labor over highly mechanized construction to maximize employment opportunities. A simplified but durable approach to paving, bridge design and construction maximized productivity and stretched available funds.

By 1935, the Rural Roads Program had produced an extensive system of narrow but paved and serviceable roads that still serve some parts of PA. Thousands of people had been put to work in both the private and public sector. Many aspects of the federal New Deal's Works Projects Administration (WPA) were modeled on Pinchot's successful Rural Roads program.

The Lessons of History

​"The greatest road building acheivement in the history of the world has been accomplished in Pennsylvania in the last four years."

- Gifford Pinchot, final message to the General Assembly, January, 1935

The Rural Roads Program is an object lesson on the powerful influence of transportation on the economy and most other aspects of civic life. The parallels to our twenty-first century issues are striking, particularly in the approach to funding mechanism under difficult economic conditions. As transportation and government decision makers continually address Pennsylvania's transportation needs and vision, Governor Pinchot's program serves as an example of how the Commonwealth can transcend political differences and economic problems to develop innovative transportation and economic solutions that benefit everyone. 

​1950's

Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956

​The Federal Highway Aid Act was signed in 1956. The idea was first introduced in the 1930s, but strong criticism against the idea and the outbreak of World War II put infrastructure investments on hold. In the 1950's, the movement gained momentum when President Eisenhower led the charge for a new interstate highway system. He claimed that the United States needed a road network that would provide “speedy, safe, transcontinental travel” while also allowing for military transport.

Prior to the Act’s signing, Pennsylvania's economy did not enjoy the benefits of interstate commerce that its favorable location within the region should have provided. History shows that the lack of efficient interstate connections and standardized route designations had greatly contributed to the state's poor economic performance. 

The Act changed the landscape of our country's infrastructure, improving our economy and way of life. Nowhere was its impact more profoundly felt than in Pennsylvania. Due to our robust interstate system, it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that all roads lead to Pennsylvania.

Information was sourced from the PennDOT Employees Association (PEA) website.

​1970's

1970: PennDOT is Created

In 1970, Act 120 created the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) from the former Department of Highways. The legislation aimed to consolidate transportation-related functions that were formerly performed by other state agencies.

​2010's

2013: Act 89 Transportation Plan

House Bill 1060 was signed into law in 2013, creating Pennsylvania's most comprehensive piece of state transportation legislation in decades. This legislation invests an additional $2.3 billion to $2.4 billion into transportation by the fifth year of the plan.

Partial funding for the new transportation package is being derived from the elimination of the flat 12-cent gas tax and modernizing an outdated transportation financing structure through the uncapping of the wholesale, Oil Company Franchise Tax. The act also increased resources for transit and created a dedicated Multimodal Fund for non-highway modes' capital needs.

More details are available on our Act 89 Transportation Plan page



transportation timeline


Photos and historical inforamation were provided by the PennDOT Employees Association (PEA).