Here in Derry I sometimes divide the town’s population into two groups — the newcomers and those here prior to the opening of Interstate 93. Soon, I will probably have to discard that definition because that particular event occurred 50 years ago this July and each year there are fewer of us old boys and girls who remember what we were like before I-93.
The origin of the highway goes back to the 1950s, when President Eisenhower conceived of a highway system to crisscross the nation. We were then in the middle of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and our government saw the need for what was called The National Defense Highway.
Its overt purpose was to move troops and supplies in the event of a war. When completed, there would be a tangle of modern highways in every part of America, extending all the way from Los Angeles to Waterville, Maine.
The first New Hampshire section of this 41,000-mile-long collection of roads was the 3-mile-long stretch from the Massachusetts border to Exit 2 in Salem, which opened in August 1961. This new high-speed road did wonders for the business at Salem’s Rockingham Park racetrack. The 3-mile-long section to Exit 3 in Windham and a 2-mile-long section in Manchester were opened later that same year.
For the next couple of years, construction went on, day in and day out, on the section that connected the two pieces of highway. The road was designed by Clarkson Engineering Co. of Albany, N.Y. It included 12 bridges and three interchanges along its 12-mile length.
There were five contractors involved in the building of the project, which would cost $9,142,322 ,with 90 percent of the cost paid for by the federal government. The Ash Street Bridge, designed by Robert Prowse, was awarded both a national and international prize for its aesthetic design, which spans the four-lane highway without any supporting piers in the center.