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"Life is a Highway" - Research Shows Impact of America's Primary Road Network on Pop Culture

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2021 -- The nation's transportation network, anchored by 48,000-miles of Interstate highways and more than 58,000 Interstate bridges, has inspired hundreds of popular songs and played a central role in scores of major motion pictures, according to research by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA). 

ARTBA conducted the internet search to coincide with the 65th Anniversary of the U.S. Interstate Highway System on June 29, and to show how the road and bridge network has influenced pop culture in the United States. 

The search for "road songs" drew such classics as:

  • Life is a Highway, Tom Cochrane
  • On the Road Again, Willie Nelson
  • King of the Road, Roger Miller
  • Long and Winding Road, The Beatles
  • Thunder Road and Working on the Highway, Bruce Springsteen
  • Take Me Home, Country Roads, John Denver
  • Ventura Highway, America
  • Hit The Road, Jack, Ray Charles
  • Freeway of Love, Aretha Franklin
  • Highway to Hell, AC/DC
  • Too Many Highways, Merle Haggard
  • Endless Highway, Alison Kraus
  • End Of The Road, Boyz II Men
  • Interstate Love Song, Stone Temple Pilots
  • Holiday Road, Lindsey Buckingham
  • Highway Don't Care, Tim McGraw featuring Taylor Swift
  • Highway 20 Ride, Zac Brown Band
  • Rockin' Down the Highway, Doobie Brothers

American moviemakers have also used transportation and highway themes as backdrops over the past 50 years to both entertain us and provoke serious thought.  Examples include: 

  • Thunder Road (1958): Bootleggers versus the Feds, with Robert Mitchum.
  • Easy Rider (1969): Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson in a classic search for America on motorcycle.
  • Smokey and the Bandit (1977): Burt Reynolds, Sally Field and Jackie Gleason embark on a cross-country car and truck chase.
  • Convoy (1978): Ali McGraw and Kris Kristofferson meet in this trucker-CB radio movie based on C.W. McCall's hit song of the same name.
  • The Cannonball Run (1981): A cross-country road race with Farrah Fawcett and Burt Reynolds.
  • National Lampoon's Vacation (1983): Chevy Chase and his family hit the road to Wally World.
  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987): An intermodal comedy featuring Steve Martin and John Candy.
  • Thelma and Louise (1991): Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis hit the highway but take a wrong turn.
  • Dumb and Dumber (1994): a hilarious cross-country trip featuring Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey.
  • Tommy Boy (1995): Chris Farley and David Spade set out on a cross-county sales trip to save Farley's family auto parts business.
  • Road Trip (2000): Tom Green and Seann William Scott teen comedy features a road journey from Ithaca, N.Y. to Texas.
  • Almost Famous (2000): With Rolling Stone to cover a rock band on tour, a teenager hits the road with the musicians and their faithful fans, including Kate Hudson.
  • Are We There Yet? (2005): In an effort to impress a woman, Ice Cube offers to take her kids on an extended road trip, unaware of the wild adventure he's in for.
  • Little Miss Sunshine (2006): Steve Carell, Alan Arkin and their dysfunctional family's cross-country trek in a VW bus to get their daughter (Abigail Breslin) into a beauty pageant final.
  • On the Road (2012): Based on the iconic Jack Kerouac novel, Kristin Stewart and company take a free-spirited road trip.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (2017): Mom Alicia Silverstone announces plans for a family road trip during summer break, but the vacation quickly goes off course and is anything but relaxing.

"Many of us take the nation's transportation network and our Interstate highways for granted," says ARTBA Vice President of Public Affairs John Schneidawind.  "We tend to focus on it when traffic gridlock or repair work inconveniences us. 

"But when you take the time to reflect, you realize that the positive impacts of the Interstate system on America's culture, economy and quality of life have greatly exceeded expectations," he said. "Movies and music are a good reflection of that."

ARTBA, based in Washington, D.C., was organized in 1902 by a visionary Michigan public official, Horatio S. Earle, for the purpose of advocating federal legislation to create a "Capital Connecting Government Highway System."  That vision was realized when President Dwight Eisenhower signed the 1956 law authorizing the Interstate Highway construction program and creating the Highway Trust Fund to finance it.

SOURCE American Road & Transportation Builders Association

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