Miles and Miles of Texas: 100 Years of the Texas Highway Department

Miles and Miles of Texas: 100 Years of the Texas Highway Department

Miles and Miles of Texas: 100 Years of the Texas Highway Department

Miles and Miles of Texas: 100 Years of the Texas Highway Department


On the eve of its centennial, Carol Dawson and Roger Allen Polson present almost 100 years of history and never-before-seen photographs that track the development of the Texas Highway Department. An agency originally created "to get the farmer out of the mud," it has gone on to build the vast network of roads that now connects every corner of the state.

When the Texas Highway Department (now called the Texas Department of Transportation or TxDOT) was created in 1917, there were only about 200,000 cars in Texas traveling on fewer than a thousand miles of paved roads. Today, after 100 years of the Texas Highway Department, the state boasts over 80,000 miles of paved, state-maintained roads that accommodate more than 25 million vehicles.

Sure to interest history enthusiasts and casual readers alike, decades of progress and turmoil, development and disaster, and politics and corruption come together once more in these pages, which tell the remarkable story of an infrastructure 100 years in the making.


An earth road is a very desirable type of road so long as it is
dry…. Its disadvantages are principally due to the effect of wet
weather, when it is practically impassable.—R. G. Tyler, “Roads
and Pavements: Earth Roads,” University of Texas Bulletin No.1922,
April 15, 1919

An East Texas road can be defined as “a ditch with a fence
on each side, along the bottom of which we have to travel.”

—George A. Duren, Texas state highway engineer, quoting
Jerry Debenport, Dallas Morning News, October 14, 1917

After the Federal Aid Road Act passed successfully into law, the Good Roads campaigners throughout Texas stepped up the pressure to establish an official state highway department. They held mass meetings in multiple counties and vigorously lobbied the government. These efforts also included a visit from the Legislative Committee of the Texas Good Roads Association to Governor James Edward Ferguson (known by his own preference as “Jim”), who had taken office for the second time in January 1917.

Ferguson did not like the Good Roads Movement. in fact, he disliked any person or organization from which he could not squeeze money. Roads, traditionally a county rather than a state responsibility, could not (yet) link directly to his bank account. He never learned to drive an automobile during his lifetime, scorned the notion of any vehicular speed above 10 miles per hour, and denounced those who wished to move faster as “speed maniacs,” peevishly demanding a 10-mile-per-hour speed limit. Although technically a lawyer, he had never attended law school. He had won admission to the bar through an oral examination administered by three of his father’s oldest friends, the substance of which consisted entirely of a four-person whiskey toast to the departed Reverend Ferguson’s memory. As his father had largely . . .

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