Letter from Rep. Danou: Legislative action still prevalent over 100 years laterIt’s hard to imagine what the State of Wisconsin looked like 100 years ago.
By: Rep. Chris Danou, Pierce County Herald
It’s hard to imagine what the State of Wisconsin looked like 100 years ago. Fortunately, periodicals and photographs provide documentation and show us how things, people and places appeared in the early 1910’s.
Although more than ten years into the 20th century, one may claim that Wisconsin looked as though it was still in 19th century. With a passionate desire to move forward, the 1911-1912 legislative session initiated many things that we still benefit from on a daily basis in Wisconsin.
When the State Legislature convened for the 1911-1912 session, there were advocates that called for a strong comprehensive plan for Wisconsin. Legislators in the Assembly and Senate recognized this call and they worked across party lines to develop Wisconsin’s comprehensive plan for the 20th century. Some historians believe the accomplishments from those two years make it one of the best legislative sessions in Wisconsin and our nation’s history.
One area of focus for the legislature during that trailblazing session was to create an interconnected system of state roads. Travel around the state was difficult, especially in some of Wisconsin’s rural and sparsely populated areas. Canals, rivers and rail didn’t have a significant presence and weren’t a feasible option when traveling short distances. People needed another reliable system to travel, as well as transport goods, products and services to communities around Wisconsin.
Realizing the need to act, Governor Francis E. McGovern signed The State Road Aid Act of 1911. The bill enjoined county boards to submit a design for possible interconnected state highway systems beyond limits of local municipalities. If the completed roads met specific requirements, towns and counties could be reimbursed for up to one-third of constructions costs. This created a partnership between municipalities, counties and the state to build and maintain roads that still exists today.
Also in 1911, the Legislature established the State Highway Commission, a part-time, five member committee that would oversee the state highway annual budget. This legislative action created the State Highway System, which established the 5,000 mile state highway trunk system in 1917. By 1918, Wisconsin’s uniform highway classification and numbering system became the country’s first network of systematically numbered highways.
This system, using odd numbers for state trunk highways running north-south and even numbers for those going east-west on black and white signs was later adopted nationally.
It’s hard to imagine our community and nation without a systematic network of state highways that allow people to travel and commerce to flow smoothly. The introduction and development of the State Highway System in Wisconsin is a milestone from the 1911-1912 legislative session. Even though this achievement happened over 100 years ago and our forms of transportation have greatly advanced, its implementation and daily presence continues to help move our state forward today.