In February 1902, a Michigan legislator, Horatio Earle, invited transportation leaders from across the U.S. to New York City’s Cadillac Hotel to start a new national association. He said it would be called “The American Road Makers (A.R.M.), which means it will never lower its arm until its purpose, ‘The Capital Connecting Government Highway,’ is attained, connecting every state capital with every other state capital, and every capital with the United States Capital—Washington.”
What we know today as the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) went to work. The association’s first major legislative victory came when President Wilson signed the 1916 Federal-Aid Road Act into law, cementing the federal government’s leadership role in national road building policy and funding. Subsequent federal laws in 1920s, 1930s and 1940s paved the way for the “mother” of all policy successes.
In June 1956, President Eisenhower signed legislation authorizing construction of the U.S. Interstate Highway System and creating a user-supported Highway Trust Fund to pay for it. The law represented the fulfillment of Earle’s vision and is among the greatest achievement ever by a national association.
The year 2017 was ARTBA’s 115th year of exclusively representing the interests of the U.S. transportation design and construction industry. ARTBA’s success over all these years can be attributed to at least two things: 1) remaining true to its core mission of building and protecting the U.S. transportation infrastructure market; and 2) ongoing contributions from outstanding volunteer leaders, industry-leading firms, and our state contractor chapters.
As examples, a look back in the archives finds ARTBA has played the industry leadership role in the passage of more than 30 major federal surface transportation investment or policy laws, in addition to the annual battles on transportation budget and appropriations bills.
Ninety-two people, representing all sectors of the industry, have been elected chairman by their peers. And eight of our 37 state chapters have been affiliates for 80 or more years. ARTBA even boasts a former U.S. president among its membership ranks—Harry Truman, a member of our public officials division early in his political career.
As roadway construction increasingly occurred among moving traffic in the 1970s and 1980s, ARTBA hosted the first National Conference on Highway Work Zone Safety in1985 in partnership with FHWA and AASHTO. This led to a second conference in 1994, and out of its proceedings, emerged the idea of a National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse to serve as a centralized information resource aimed at improving motorist and worker safety in these sites. ARTBA won the FHWA contract to create such a facility in 1997. Twenty years later, the Clearinghouse has become the world’s largest online resource on road construction safety and has materials available in seven languages. The latest example of ARTBA innovative leadership was the 2016 launch of the Safety Certification for Transportation Project Professionals™ program.
ARTBA industry leadership extends to the 1909 launch in Columbus, Ohio, of the “Road Show”—the forerunner of today’s CONEXPO-CON/AGG. ARTBA helped launch the Washington, D.C., “Road Gang” in 1942 and The Road Information Program (TRIP) in the late 1960s. The association was also a force in the international arena. We jointly held with the American Highway Association a “Pan-American Good Roads Congress” in 1916, created a European Division in 1930, and played a founding role in the International Road Federation (IRF).
Reflecting back on his career in his 1929 autobiography, Earle wrote:
“I have had a hand in the formation of county, state and national organizations for the betterment of public highways. Of all these, the most far reaching in its influence and benefits, was the founding of the American Road Makers… This organization has wielded a mighty influence in the land and, without doubt, has been the principal factor in winning the national battle for better roads. From a small membership, with comparatively little influence, it has developed into the most powerful organization of its kind in the world.”
Nine decades later, his statements still ring true!