Source: Mercantile Library Collection


On October 15, 1955 one of the major highway building projects in St. Louis during the 1950s, the Third Street Expressway, was completed. Though Third Street had existed since early in the city's history, it had become very congested by automobile traffic and needed to be widened. Third Street's prime location between the Riverfront, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, and the Central Business District made it a logical choice to be expanded. (The Central Business District or CBD was the heart of an urban area. It was an area of the city where land value was high and many important businesses were located.) When the four year, thirteen million-dollar, project was finished in 1955 it widened Third Street, from two lanes to six, and connected it to the Ozark and Mark Twain Expressways. This created a highway system that allowed drivers to commute in a quicker and easier manner. This new freedom allowed commuters to change important parts of their life, like where they worked and lived. As transit time decreased, motorists were able to live in places that were farther away from where they worked and shopped.

The Third Street Expressway was financed through a combination of a local bond issue and states and federal highway funds. The bond issue was approved by city voters in August 1944 and provided $8,600,0000 for street improvements that included the Third Street Expressway. The bond issue passed easily and, although a few business owners protested the loss of their buildings, the vast majority of St. Louisans were in favor of the new highway. The highways popular support was quite different from many other cities where local groups opposed highway projects. (In 1955 another $110 million bond issue was passed that helped finance many St. Louis projects, including additional improvements to Third Street.)

The federal funds for the highway came from a series of Federal Highway Acts that were legislated by Congress. The first three, in 1944, 1950, and 1954, provided aid for the Third Street Expressway to be completed, but they are most remembered as precursors to the Federal-Aid to Highway/Interstate Highway Act of 1956. The Highway Act of 1956 provided $31.5 billion dollars in federal money to build a system of interstate highways, which would expand the mobility of Americans and increase defense readiness. This Act is considered by many to be the birthplace of the highway system and the American car culture.

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Learn more about the 1955 bond issue at City Hall