Interstate Highways From the Ground Up
This lesson gives students a first-hand opportunity to hear about the planning and effort it takes to build a highway through an oral history of a North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) resident engineer. Through his oral history, students will learn about "the largest single construction project in the history of the NCDOT." That project is also known as the I-26 corridor in Madison County, North Carolina. This lesson encourages students to think about the enormous impact of highways in our personal lives, and on North Carolina's economy, while recognizing how we take highways for granted.
Grades 11 & 12 - Social Studies
Classroom Time Needed: 1 class period
Students will learn about the historic origins of the interstate highway system.
Students will consider the impact of highways in their lives and the lives of all Americans.
Through the use of oral histories, students will evaluate the pros and cons of an interstate highway system.
North Carolina Standard Course of Study - Grades 11 &12 Social Studies
Goal 7: The learner will research the current transportation systems in North Carolina and outline possible proposals for the future.
Materials and Resources
Excerpts Handout (Word document) - One copy for each student
Student worksheet (PDF) - One copy for each student
4 oral history excerpts (mp3 files)
If students will be doing one or both of the warm-up activities mentioned below, teachers should gather at least five road maps of the same or different states. On an index card, write the name of two cities that appear on the map and that are connected by at least one highway. Do this for each map.
Teachers should listen to the oral history excerpts and review discussion questions.
Teachers should familiarize themselves with the I-26 construction project. The Unofficial Pages offer a good overview.
Teachers should familiarize themselves with the geography of the I-26 corridor. It is located in Madison County, North Carolina, and connects NC-213 near Mars Hill to US-23 in Tennessee. Find the area on a wall map or online by searching for Mars Hill, NC, in Google Maps.
Warm-up Activity: Considering Highways
Divide students into groups that they can remain in for the rest of the period. Explain that today's lesson is on the federal Interstate highway system, and that you will be discussing the benefits and drawbacks of this relatively recent technological development.
Share the following information with students:
Provide a state highway map to each group of students, along with the index card with two locations from the map. Give students in the group enough time to plot the fastest route between the two locations. (This may vary depending on your grade level. An example of an easier option in North Carolina is to plot Raleigh to Greensboro, a greater challenge would be Laurinburg to New Bern.) It may be interesting to give each group of students a different map from different states. United States road maps are available at any AAA office.
As students are plotting their routes, ask them to notice:
Discuss these answers and the routes students chose.
Lesson Part One: Divided Highways
Pass out a copy of the Excerpts Handout to each student.
Read aloud the excerpt from the Tom Lewis's Divided Highways (New York: Penguin Group, 1997; Introduction, p. ix-xi). Ask students to consider how the author's description matches some of their viewpoints.
Discuss the answers to the questions:
Lesson Part Two: Eisenhower and the Highway
Next on the Excerpts Handout, read aloud the introduction to Stan Hyatt's oral history.
Play the Eisenhower and the Highway oral history excerpt and discuss:
Lesson Part Three: History and Safety
Next on the Excerpts Handout, read aloud the background information of I-26.
Play the History and Safety oral history excerpt and discuss:
Lesson Part Four: Impact on People and Places
Play the Impact on People and Places oral history excerpt and discuss:
Lesson Part Five: Personal Impact
Play the Personal Impact oral history excerpt and discuss:
Students will complete the worksheet in class and answer oral history discussion questions. At the end of class, ask each student to write down a "muddy issue" question: one question about a topic that they did not fully understand in class. Collect and read through these. Discuss answers in the following class period.
In his oral history excerpt, Stan Hyatt mentions that "life is full of choices." Ask students write an argumentative essay, choosing a stance on whether or not the interstate highway system has had an overall positive or negative impact on their life. They should offer supporting reasons and argue against any opposing reasons.
Further Information about the Interstate-26 corridor
The Unofficial Pages: I-26 Construction, Madison County, North Carolina - Created by John Lansford, Project Design Engineer for sections A-10C and A-10D, this site includes a 1999 introduction, a 2003 project update, and many images including maps and photos of the construction project.
I-26, Corridor of Change - This story includes an interactive map and both written and photo essays by Rob Amberg, Madison County resident, oral historian, and photographer. Amberg conducted many of the interviews included in this online learning module.
Complete Oral Histories
Environmental Transformations in North Carolina - These twenty-three oral histories, from UNC-Chapel Hill's Oral Histories of the American South Collection, record stories of environmental change in North Carolina. Many of the interviews included in this learning module are listed here as are others relating to the Interstate 26 corridor.