Established in 1966 by an act of Congress, the Department of Transportation (DOT) became operational in April 1967. The stated purpose was to ensure “…a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people,” according to President Lyndon B. Johnson.
It was first under the pursue of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Transportation. It’s now headed by the Secretary of Transportation and encompasses a variety of agencies and departments that includes the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, Urban Mass Transportation Administration, and Federal Railroad. The DOT is responsible for aiding in the development and maintenance of the nation’s transportation system and the infrastructure to support it.
Former President Woodrow Wilson was the first to propose such an agency in 1921. The DOT grew out of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1944. The Act was designed to improve highway systems across the nation to facilitate and expedite the transportation of defense materials and resources during World War II. However, no funding for the initiative was approved. It wasn’t until the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1952 that funds were allocated specifically for construction of the interstate highway system.
The importance of the highway system received new attention by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower during the Cold War. Routes of primary importance to the nation were identified, along with those connecting the U.S. to Canada and Mexico. The highway system was seen as an essential element in urban planning and contributed largely to social and economic change.
Today, the DOT is responsible for planning transportation projects, providing funding for them, and maintaining transportation infrastructure. It sets safety standards for all modes of transportation and regulates mobility and transportation along interstate highways. It also oversees and sets rules for air and rail traffic.
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