A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

How can there be interstate highways ... in Hawaii?

October 21, 1988

Dear Cecil:

How can there be interstate highways … in Hawaii? And why isn't a family-size pizza the size of a family?

Cecil replies:

You're so immature, Greg. I feel a definite kinship.

Back in the late 1950s Hawaiian officials had the same thought you did (about the interstates, I mean; we'll ignore the business about pizzas). But they didn't think it was so funny. In fact they were quite concerned that some literal-minded bureaucrat was going to say they weren't eligible for federal interstate highway money merely because there was this thing called an ocean separating them from the rest of the country.

They were probably right to worry. Early federal highway legislation said the interstate system "shall be designated within the continental United States," thereby excluding islands.  But Hawaiians pointed out that one of the purposes of the interstate system was to strengthen national defense, and that Hawaii (specifically, the island of Oahu) was crammed with military installations that needed to be connected by good roads.

Congress evidently saw the wisdom of this and dealt with the matter in the Hawaii Omnibus Act of 1960, which took care of various postadmission loose ends. Right after a section dealing with the Opium Poppy Control Act and shortly before a passage headed Purchases of Typewriters, they stuck in some language deleting the continental U.S. requirement and authorizing $12 million for Hawaiian roads.

Three routes were subsequently approved and built, with the result that Hawaii now has more miles of interstate than Delaware (48 vs. 40.6). Meanwhile, Alaska, despite its unquestionable location on the mainland, has no miles of interstate at all and has to struggle along with dogsleds and snowshoes. Just shows you life isn't fair, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and you can't be deterred by mere words when it comes to grabbing federal bucks.

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