Top 11 Great Infrastructure Projects That Helped Shape America
Top 11 Great Infrastructure Projects That Helped Shape America. Photo KnowInsiders

How Important Is Infrastructure In US History?

Infrastructure projects in the U.S. have a long and impressive history that spans over a century. Learn more about some of the most awe-inspiring infrastructure achievements in America.

‌Throughout history, sound infrastructure has been the hallmark of great civilizations. Infrastructure connects people and groups and facilitates the exchange of goods. The Romans constructed aqueducts that carried fresh water for hundreds of miles into their sprawling city centers. The ancient Chinese created one of the most expansive trade routes in history with the Silk Road, a series of roads that connected India, Africa, and Europe to the Far East.

Today, infrastructure remains the backbone of modern societies everywhere, and the United States is no exception. Since its founding, the United States has grown and thrived thanks in large part to ambitious public works projects spanning from coast to coast. Read on to learn more about the rich history of infrastructure in the U.S. and how the definition of infrastructure continues to evolve as we navigate the challenges of the modern era.

What is the first infrastructure project in the US?

‌One of the first major infrastructure projects in the U.S. was the National Road, a project first commissioned by Congress in 1806. This road served as the primary means of travel for settlers seeking a new life in the western part of the United States. Today, this road is known as Route 40, and it’s still a critical component of the United States’ transportation system.

‌The Industrial Revolution and the advent of high-pressure steam engines ushered in a new era of American infrastructure. In 1862, the federal government began construction on the Intercontinental Railroad, an ambitious seven-year project that would connect the East Coast and West Coast of America by train. This project made it possible for Americans to travel safely and easily across the country in a fraction of the time it once took,and unleashed a new age of prosperity and economic exchange throughout the states.

Top 11 Great Infrastructure Projects That Helped Shape America

1‌. The Panama Canal

Top 11 Great Infrastructure Projects That Helped Shape America
Photo El faro

The Panama Canal was one of the largest construction projects in history, requiring engineering on an unprecedented scale and innovative solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. The goal for building the Panama Canal was to create a direct shipping route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean because previously ships from east coast circumnavigated all the way through South America to reach the west coast, which took a long time and was dangerous!

Did you know that it is one of the few construction projects in the world that despite facing many challenges it was completed in 1914, two years ahead of the 1916 target! So, let us explore how the construction of Panama Canal can inspire project managers!

What were attemps to build ‌the Panama Canal?

There were two attempts to build the Panama Canal. The first attempt to build the canal was made by Ferdinand De Lesseps (a French diplomat and administrator who initiated and led the construction of the Suez Canal). After the huge success of the Suez Canal he set his eyes on building the Panama Canal. But this new construction project failed spectacularly for several reasons. The first error was the lack of planning and not listening to experts. For example, during the international congress, organized by Ferdinand De Lesseps in Pairs and attended by participants from all over the world, it was suggested by the engineers to build a “lock and dam” canal rather than a sea-level canal which would be infeasible. However, it was later decided to build a sea-level canal! This is a classic example of not heeding to expert advice and ensuring the failure of the project from the beginning during the planning stage.

Are there any challenges when building ‌the Panama Canal?

There were many other challenges. The weather was hot, muggy and rainy. The soil was not stable and there were regular floods and earthquakes. Diseases such as Bubonic plague, Malaria, Pneumonia and Yellow Fever were prevalent. Hence the environmental and geological conditions were not the same while building the Suez Canal. There was no proper risk management to tackle the challenges. Also, Ferdinand De Lesseps's team lacked proper planning, resources, trained employees adapted to this context.

After the financial and technical success of the Suez Canal whose construction many thought was impossible, there might have been some over-confidence while building the Panama Canal! In the end Ferdinand De Lesseps and his team abandoned the project. Remember: no two projects are the same! Every project is unique!

2. The Hoover Dam

Top 11 Great Infrastructure Projects That Helped Shape America
Photo history

The Hoover Dam is one of the crown jewels of American infrastructure. It was one of the most ambitious projects of the early 20th century, requiring millions of cubic feet of concrete and tens of millions of pounds of steel to build a dam that could provide electricity to 1.3 million people. Millions of people visit the dam every year. It's even been immortalized in song.

One of 492 dams built by the Bureau of Reclamation, Hoover Dam on the Colorado River is an engineering marvel. It stands 726 feet tall and 660 feet thick at its base, and it took five years to build from 1931-1936. Not only do people come from around the world to see the dam that forms Lake Mead, Hoover Dam is a critical infrastructure project. The dam provides water to 23 million people in the southwestern United States and irrigation water for 2.5 million acres of agriculture, while its power plant provides power to 1.2 million people in California, Arizona and Nevada.

How many dams in the US?

There are over 91,000 dams in the country that serve many purposes. Dams are classified by hazard potential. A high-hazard-potential rating does not imply that a dam has an increased risk for failure; it simply means that if failure were to occur, the resulting consequences would likely be a direct loss of human life and extensive property damage. Over the last 20 years, the number of high-hazard-potential dams has more than doubled as development steadily encroaches on once-rural dams and reservoirs. Although the number of high-hazard-potential dams has increased, the overall percentage of these dams protected by an Emergency Action Plan has increased as well. As of 2018, 81% of such dams had a plan on file, up 5% from 2015. Unfortunately, due to the lack of investment, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates the number of deficient high-hazard-potential dams now exceeds 2,300. Meanwhile, approximately 3% of dams supply households and businesses with hydroelectric power, and many of these dams are privately owned by utilities and follow a rigorous operations and maintenance schedule.

3. National Parks Roadways & Recreation Areas

As interstate highways crisscrossed the country, Americans took to the roads like never before. This newfound geographical freedom coincided with unprecedented leisure time – a result of the post-World War II economic boom that gave labor unions and individual professionals leverage to secure higher wages and vacation time for workers.Still a decade or so away from affordable commercial airline travel, Americans packed their bags, hopped in their cars and drove. And a hell of a lot of them ventured to America’s proudest treasures: its national parks. By 1955, annual national parks visitation was 56 million – up from just 21 million in 1941.Unfortunately, the parks simply weren’t ready for them.

Overcrowding and scant recreation areas mixed with a dearth of navigable roads within the parks. Accessible areas became littered and polluted while inaccessible areas remained… well, inaccessible.So in 1956, National Park Service director Colin Wirth proposed a ten-year plan – called “Mission ‘66” after its planned completion date – that invested hundreds of millions of dollars in widescale infrastructure improvements. The effort dramatically increased not only nature-friendly access roads but staffing, maintenance and visitor centers.In a nation with a less-than-stellar record of protecting pristine wilderness, the US government successfully saved national parklands while helping Americans visit them more enjoyably and sustainably.

What are the state’s infrastructure priorities for FY2022-2023?

The US government unveiled its sustainable development plan for FY2022-2023, as cabinet presented its revised draft budget for the upcoming year to the House of Representatives. More than half of this year’s budget will go towards public investment, with EGP 1.1 tn out of the entire EGP 2.07 tn budget earmarked for its investment plans — up 17.9% from the current year’s budget. With a focus on economic recovery and a new target to increase the volume of “green projects,” the budget advances the government’s planned infrastructure reforms while reassessing priorities in light of the unstable global economic backdrop against which the budget was drafted.

Transport is the single largest recipient of investments: Like the current fiscal year, transport gets the biggest portion of the budget, with EGP 307 bn earmarked for projects in the sector — up about 25.3% from the current fiscal year. Some EGP 176 bn are going to the National Authority for Tunnels, which is overseeing Cairo Metro upgrades as well as the high-speed electric rail Orascom Construction, Arab Contractors, and Siemens are working on, and the monorail, which will connect 6th of October City to Giza and Nasr City to the new administrative capital. The first phase of construction for the electric rail is set to be completed by early 2023. Some EGP 24 bn is earmarked for road developments, up 4% from the current year’s budget.

4. The US Highway System

On June 29, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. The bill created a 41,000-mile “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways” that would, according to Eisenhower, eliminate unsafe roads, inefficient routes, traffic jams and all of the other things that got in the way of “speedy, safe transcontinental travel.” At the same time, highway advocates argued, “in case of atomic attack on our key cities, the road net [would] permit quick evacuation of target areas.” For all of these reasons, the 1956 law declared that the construction of an elaborate expressway system was “essential to the national interest.”

How long is the US highway system? How many highways?

The National Highway System consists of over 161,000 miles which includes the Interstate System and portions of other functional systems. There are 16 interstate highways in the state and 45 U. S. highways.

If Interstate or U. S. Highways are east-west highways, they get even numbers; north-south routes get odd numbers. Loops and spurs get three digits incorporating the number of a linking interstate or U.S. highway.

The most famous section of highway in the U.S. is Route 66, otherwise known as America’s Main Street. This major travel route runs from Chicago to Southern California and continues to attract sightseers every year. Route 66 opened to the public in 1927 and quickly became iconic. However, the development of new highways eventually led to the rerouting and renaming of many portions of Route 66.

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956

‌A massive change came in the summer of 1956, when the United States began another landmark infrastructure project: U.S. Highway Interstate System. This massive undertaking connected major metropolitan areas throughout the United States and allowed citizens to travel seamlessly from state to state. Today, the U.S. Highway System spans over 46,000 miles across every corner of the country, and work continues to this day to maintain or expand the interstates.

It took several years of wrangling, but a new Federal-Aid Highway Act passed in June 1956. The law authorized the construction of a 41,000-mile network of interstate highways that would span the nation. It also allocated $26 billion to pay for them. Under the terms of the law, the federal government would pay 90 percent of the cost of expressway construction. The money came from an increased gasoline tax–now 3 cents a gallon instead of 2–that went into a non-divertible Highway Trust Fund.

The new interstate highways were controlled-access expressways with no at-grade crossings–that is, they had overpasses and underpasses instead of intersections. They were at least four lanes wide and were designed for high-speed driving. They were intended to serve several purposes: eliminate traffic congestion; replace what one highway advocate called “undesirable slum areas” with pristine ribbons of concrete; make coast-to-coast transportation more efficient; and make it easy to get out of big cities in case of an atomic attack.

5. The Erie Canal

Top 11 Great Infrastructure Projects That Helped Shape America
Photo NY Times

The most important infrastructure project in New York City’s history was constructed hundreds of miles from New York City.In the early 1800s, personal travel was slow and commercial freighting even slower. In areas lacking direct water routes, large quantities of goods were hauled by oxcart and other millennia-old methods.

The result was a double-edged sword: coastal cities couldn’t easily access the American interior’s vast resources, and would-be western settlers hesitated to sever themselves from major coastal markets.Seeing this untapped potential, New York State governor DeWitt Clinton fiercely advocated for a 363-mile canal linking the Great Lakes at Buffalo to the Hudson River at Albany. The eight-year, $7 million engineering feat cut through fields, forests, cliffs and swamps, conquering inclines with more than 80 lift locks.


Construction on the canal began on July 4, 1817 in Rome, NY, but the United States Military Academy at West Point offered the only engineering schooling in the country at the time. The bulk of the designers on the project, including Chief Engineer Benjamin Wright and surveyor James Geddes (who were both judges) and farmers who lived along the route and contributed to the construction, had no formal training and instead relied on practical experience and examples of European canals.


Without modern construction equipment and the technology that has been used to build the biggest projects in the world, human and horse power unearthed the miles of rough terrain in upstate New York. Irish, German, and British workers made up to $1 a day shoveling dirt and rocks by hand, masons lined the sides of the canal with stone, and teams of animals pulled scrapers to move larger material. Barrels of whiskey were allegedly strategically placed upstream from the workers as encouragement, and methods were devised for uprooting trees, yanking out tree stumps, and pouring hydraulic cement underwater.


With economic and cultural ties linking the Northeast and Midwest, the old Northwest Territory states (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) were more inclined to support the union cause once tensions between the North and South boiled over. The Midwest also became the food-producing capital of America, while the South focused on crops like cotton, and the Erie Canal remained the primary route for the Midwest’s agricultural resources, giving the Union a significant economic advantage. In addition, runaway slaves used the towpath along the Canal as part of the Underground Railroad in their escape to Canada.


Thomas Allen wrote an ode to the Erie Canal called “Low Bridge! Everybody Down!” in 1905, and it became known as the Erie Canal Song. It was first recorded in 1912 and has been covered by legends like Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen. Prominent 19th century writers like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Mark Twain also wrote about life along the Erie Canal.

6. Transcontinental Railroad

America’s first steam locomotive premiered in 1830 and, by 1850, 9,000 miles of track existed east of the Missouri River. Rail’s rapid growth made an ongoing network of ancillary canals – marine byways to supplement the Erie Canal’s smashing success – increasingly obsolete.

Connecting the entire continental country by rail would have taken longer were it not for one event: the 1848 discovery of gold in California. The ensuing westward rush allowed California to achieve full statehood by 1850; until then, the westernmost states were Texas, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Top 11 Great Infrastructure Projects That Helped Shape America
Photo bunk history

Calls came to connect the sister states with track, toward the dual goal of faster, safer travel to the Pacific coast and the settlement of the vast lands in between established states.Abraham Lincoln answered that call, greenlighting arguably America’s most significant infrastructure project during what was inarguably its most existential crisis, the Civil War. In 1862, Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act, chartering two entities – the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads – to connect the California capital of Sacramento to the then-westernmost rail hub at Omaha, Nebraska.

The two companies raced toward each other. Along the way, they fought off waves of attacks from Native Americans understandably hostile to invaders laying tracks for their “iron horses.” Civil War veterans, Irish immigrants and some 14,000 Chinese completed the 1,912-mile route in seven years; some 1,200 died in the process. Overnight, the 3,000-mile cross-country journey fell from several months to under a week, vastly accelerating America’s westward expansion.

‌7. New York City Subway

Top 11 Great Infrastructure Projects That Helped Shape America
Photo NY City

The New York City Subway System opened on October 27, 1904, with 28 stations. Though it was not the first subway system in the country, being preceded by Boston’s Tremont Street subway in 1897, the NYC subway quickly became the largest American subway system. Its first route began at City Hall in lower Manhattan and finished at 145th Street Broadway in Harlem.

Mayor George McClellan, who oversaw the openings of other important infrastructures and buildings in New York City, was the first individual to drive the subway train. Initially, he was in charge of ceremonially starting the train’s engine, but Mayor McClellan loved the task so much and ended up driving the subway train for most of its journey, before turning over the control to the company’s professional motorman, George L. Morrison.

Key Facts:

1. Only 60% of the subway is underground.

2. Even though New York has the second largest population in the world, it ranks seventh for number of subway riders

3. Times Square-42nd Street is New York's busiest subway station, servicing more than 65 million riders a year.

4. If the entire length of NYC's subway tracks (approximately 660 miles) were laid out end to end, they would reach Chicago.

5. For workers who overuse the "my train was delayed" excuse, offices can request verification of delays.

6. From end to end, the A train is the longest route. The 31-mile journey carries passengers from 207th St. in Manhattan, to Far Rockaway in Queens.

Ghost stations

There are nine ghost stations in the NYC Subway system: The most beautiful is the abandoned City Hall station on the 6 line. It was in service from 1904 to 1945.

One of the ghost stations is the South 4th Street station in Williamsburg. But this station wasn't abandoned — it was simply never used. In 2012, it was taken over by a street art collective and covered from floor to ceiling.

8. San Antonio River Walk

Top 11 Great Infrastructure Projects That Helped Shape America
Photo viator

The San Antonio River Walk, also referred to as Paseo del Rio or the riverwalk, is the crown jewel of the city and one of the top attractions in the Lone Star State. It covers 15 miles along the banks of the San Antonio River and is divided into three sections — the Downtown Reach, the Mission Reach and the Museum Reach.

The San Antonio River Walk (or Paseo del Rio) is a linear park that winds for thirteen miles from Brackenridge Park through downtown San Antonio and south to the farthest of the city’s five eighteenth-century Spanish missions. The central section of approximately 3½ miles is navigable by tourist barges that stop along riverside walkways near hotels, restaurants, and shops concentrated around the Great Bend or Horseshoe Bend. Navigation northward beyond the original River Walk was made possible in 2009 by construction of the only river lock in the state of Texas. Access to the remainder of the River Walk is along hiking and biking trails. The River Walk draws several million tourists a year, is ranked as one of the top travel destinations in Texas, and has inspired riverside developments throughout the world.

Why is the San Antonio Riverwalk famous?

The San Antonio River walk is famous for being an exemplary engineering and architecture project.

The Riverwalk is not just an attraction but a destination in itself.

There are plenty of things to do here from dining, shopping, and nightlife in its most popular area to a host of cultural activities and historic sites in other sections.

9. Nuclear Power Plants

Surprisingly, the US was actually third to the nuclear power plant game, behind the Soviet Union (1954) and the United Kingdom (1957). However, the US quickly became the world’s foremost generator of nuclear energy, peaking in 2012 with 104 functioning reactors. Today, America’s 96 operational reactors are still the most on Earth and, at nearly 100,000 MW, produces about 20% of the country’s electricity.

Despite reasonable safety concerns including the creation of radioactive waste and, of course, the possibility of a Chernobyl or Three Mile Island-esque meltdown, the proliferation of nuclear power is more important than mere electricity generation. The successful construction and operation of the vast majority of nuclear power plants taught the world a lesson that, in the here and now, is invaluable: that energy can be produced with zero carbon emissions.

As countries across the world try to expand green energy production, the US has a long way to go if it wants to lead a sustainable energy surge necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Currently, America generates only 20% of its energy through renewable resources like hydro, wind and solar.

By comparison, Iceland and Norway generate all of their electricity using renewable energy resources, and nearly 50 other nations generate over 50% of their electricity from renewables. Recently, US President Joe Biden announced plans to drastically increase renewable production, including intentions to generate 40% of the country’s electricity via solar energy by 2035.

10. Lincoln Tunnel

Top 11 Great Infrastructure Projects That Helped Shape America
Photo NJ

The Lincoln Tunnel is a 1.5-mile long tunnel under the Hudson River, from Weehawken, New Jersey to the borough of Manhattan. The project was funded by the New Deal’s Public Works Administration and the design was by Ole Singstad. Construction began in March 1934 and the tunnel opened to traffic on December 22, 1937, charging $0.50 per passenger car. The cost of construction was $85,000,000. The original design called for two tubes. Work on the second was halted in 1938 but resumed in 1941. Due to war material shortages of metal, completion was delayed for two years. It opened on February 1, 1945 at a cost of $80 million. A third tunnel was added in 1957.

The Lincoln Tunnel is one of a triad of tunnels built by the New Deal to provide better traffic access to Manhattan from New Jersey, Queens (Queens-Midtown Tunnel) and Brooklyn (Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel).

“The Lincoln Tunnel, formerly identified as the Mid-Town Hudson Tunnel, is the second under-water highway between New York and New Jersey. This tunnel, in conjunction with a proposed vehicular underpass in Manhattan Island and with the Queens Mid-Town Vehicular Tunnel now under construction under the East River, will afford a continuous highway link between the highway system of New Jersey and the highway system of Long Island. Construction of the first operating unit began under Project 228 (N. Y.) under which docket approximately $47,000,000 was expended on the tunnel, the New Jersey plaza and approaches, and appurtenant structures and equipment.

11. Arroyo Seco Parkway

Top 11 Great Infrastructure Projects That Helped Shape America
Photo NPS

The Arroyo Seco Parkway began construction in the 1930s after the Automobile Club of Southern California lobbied the state legislature to extend rural highways into urban areas. The 8.2 mile stretch of road cost approximately $6 million dollars to build, and would pave the way for the rest of Los Angeles' expansive freeway system.

The parkway was designed to advance automobile transportation, while giving drivers access to the stunning views of the Arroyo Seco. It officially opened to traffic on December 30, 1940, an occasion celebrated with parades and proclamations, including a bizarre fictional ceremony where the land underneath the parkway was passed from the Native Americans to the local government. Merely two months after its opening, concerns were raised over traffic congestion on the newly constructed parkway, dispelling any theories that this new road would improve and cut the commute time between Los Angeles and Pasadena.

USA Construction Projects to look out for in 2022

1. Amazon HQ2 (Arlington/Crystal City, Virginia)

According to Clark Construction, the first phase of the new Amazon HQ2 office space at National Landing, which began in January 2020, is on track to be completed by 2023. The contractor anticipates crowning out the office buildings at Metropolitan Park in early 2022, finishing facade installation by summer, and moving on to developing the 2-acre landscaped courtyard once the buildings are finished.

The Metropolitan Park campus will house 2.1 million square feet of office space for Amazon in two 22-story LEED-certified buildings as well as 50,000 square feet of retail space for local small businesses. The Amazon HQ2 budget is estimated to be more than $2.5 billion

2. Samsung Chip Factory (Austin, Texas)

Samsung announced in late November that it is planning to build a $17 billion semiconductor fabrication facility in Taylor, Texas, northeast of Austin. Samsung plans to begin construction on the factory in 2022, with operations beginning in 2024. The project’s announcement came amid a global shortage of computer chips caused by COVID-19 supply issues.

The project’s lead contractor has yet to be announced by the company. It will be the company’s largest investment in the United States. Since the late 1990s, Samsung has operated a chip manufacturing facility in Austin and plans to share infrastructure and resources between the two establishments.

3. California High-Speed Rail (Central Valley Phase)

The California high-speed rail project, which, once completed, will be the country’s first long-distance high-speed rail line, currently has 35 active construction sites spread across a 119-mile stretch of the Central Valley. The system is expected to run from San Francisco to Los Angeles in under three hours, according to the State of California’s High-Speed Rail Authority, using bullet trains that can travel up to 200 miles per hour. The system’s reach would be extended over 800 miles with up to 24 stations if extensions to Sacramento and San Diego are built. The cost of the Central Valley section is currently estimated to be $13.1 billion. According to the rail authority’s 2020 business plan, the first section will run between Merced, California, and Bakersfield, California, with service expected to begin in December 2028.

4. Texas Bullet Rail (Dallas/ Fort Worth and Houston, Texas)

The dream of Texas Central Partners and Matthews Southwest Properties is to build a high-speed train line that connects Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston, Texas.

The ambitious project is expected to cost a whopping $20 billion. The “approximately 240-mile high-speed rail line will offer a total travel time of fewer than 90 minutes, with convenient departures every 30 minutes during peak periods and every hour during off-peak periods,” according to Texas Central.

Webuild Group & Lane Construction Corp. are listed as the project’s general contractors, with Kiewit Infrastructure South and Mass Electric Construction also involved.

5. Blue Castle Nuclear Plant (Green River, Utah)

Blue Castle Holdings Inc. is working on a project to build a two-reactor nuclear energy facility near Green River, Utah, with a potential construction budget of $20 billion.

The project is expected to start construction in 2022, according to construction bid documents. “Planning is currently being conducted to provide consistent, competitive new baseload electric power generation and to reduce the developmental risk for electric utilities,” according to the company. The project had progressed to the design stage, according to documents from November 2021. The owners estimate that once the project gets underway it will take until 2030 to complete.

The project, according to Blue Castle Holdings, will use “less than 1% of current water diversion” in the state for its facility, while also claiming to increase the amount of electricity produced in Utah by 50%. According to construction bid documents, this number is slightly lower, with the addition of 2,200 megawatts of electrical capacity expected to increase electricity generation in the state by 30%.

In conclusion, these great infrastructure projects in the US have become key transport projects, places that attract tourists or those that bring benefits to the public.

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