Time Machine Tuesday: The History of Colorado's Highways

Today we take for granted the fact that highways can take us pretty much anywhere we want to go.
But in the first half of the 20th century, that wasn’t the case. As automobiles grew in popularity, the need arose for a system of highways that could support ever-increasing numbers of vehicles. While the construction of highways and interstates has made our life much easier, they haven’t been without problems, whether it’s impact to the environment, or the socioeconomic consequences that occurred in neighborhoods split by highways, forever changing local dynamics.

If you’re researching the history of Colorado’s highway and interstate systems, our library has numerous resources, including historical documents, that tell the story of the transportation system that completely changed our landscapes and ways of life starting in the second half of the 20th century. Search our web catalog for resources. Some highlights from our collection include:

  • 100 Years of State Transportation History. Colorado Department of Transportation, 2010.
  • A “Before and After” Study of Effects of a Limited Access Highway Upon the Business Activity of By-Passed Communities and Upon the Land Value and Land Use. Colorado Department of Highways, 1958.
  • Colorado’s Highway Needs and Highway Financing. Colorado Highway Planning Committee, 1950.
  • Colorful Colorado (official state highway maps). 1942-1991 available online; print maps available 1954-present.
  • Commemorating the Opening of the Denver Valley Highway, November 23, 1958. Colorado Department of Highways, 1958.
  • Denver Metropolitan Area Transportation Study. Colorado Division of Highways, 1962.
  • Digest and Review of the Preliminary Report of the Colorado Highway Planning Committee. Colorado Highway Planning Committee, 1950
  • The High Road. Colorado Division of Highways, 1976.
  • The Highways of Colorado: Summary Report of the Colorado State Planning Commission. Works Progress Administration and Colorado State Planning Commission, 1937.
  • Highways to the Sky: A Context and History of Colorado’s Highway System. Colorado Historical Society and Colorado Department of Transportation, 2002.
  • Paths of Progress. Colorado Department of Highways, 1954.
  • Route Descriptions and Mileage Statistics of Colorado State Highways. Colorado Division of Highways, published annually 1955-1960.
  • Traffic Volumes on Urban Freeways in Colorado. Colorado Department of Highways, 1971.

Items without web links can be viewed in or checked out from our library or obtained through Prospector. We also have hundreds of documents pertaining to individual highways/interstates and geographic areas, environmental information, planning documents, research reports, and resources on the history of specific features like the Eisenhower Tunnel, Glenwood Canyon, and the Scenic Byways.

Finally, see also the Colorado Department of Transportation’s CDOT History webpage.

Colorado’s state highway system in 1951.

Top photo: The old San Juan County Road before the construction of the Million Dollar Highway. Photo courtesy Denver Public Library Western History & Genealogy Department.