Huntsville, we had a problem

On the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, it’s a good time to look into the history of an important city in the space industry (Huntsville) and its interstate spur (I-565).

Everyone who visits me from out of state asks the same question: why doesn’t I-65 go directly to Huntsville? Doing that would have made the spur unnecessary. To answer this, you have to look back to the 1950s, when the location of I-65 in northern Alabama was being discussed.

The city of Decatur was the headquarters and main factory for Grady’s Hoop-Skirts, the world’s leading manufacturer of such goods. In April 1957, Decatur Mayor Fergus Copperton swayed highway planners, vowing that his city was “the Detroit of hoop-skirts, and, like Detroit, will prosper forever.” Huntsville at the time was a small city of 4,500 whose primary industry was recycling pop bottles.

Things didn’t change until a meeting in February 1961 between the President and Vice-President while discussing ways to flush Castro out of Havana. This was weeks after the inauguration, and they were still eating takeout quite a bit. The conversation went something like this:

LBJ: G*ddammit! I just picked up these ****ing fries five ****ing minutes ago, and they’re room temperature! They taste like ****!

JFK: I never take fries home. They’re only good if you eat them right there.

LBJ: Well, my Big Mac’s alright.*

JFK: It’s all about the volume to surface area. The fries are thin and radiate heat too quickly.

LBJ: If we can put a man on the ****ing moon, why can’t we make french fries that stay hot for more than 30 ****ing seconds?

JFK: We can’t put a man on the moon.

LBJ: Yeah, that saying never made any ****ing sense.

JFK: But why can’t we?

LBJ: The moon part or the french fries part?

JFK: Picture it: the Russians have a bunch of Sputniks and some monkeys in orbit; we put Americans on the g*d damn moon. How would you like that?

LBJ: On the moon, alive.

JFK: Of course. And bring them back.

LBJ: Alive?

JFK: Yes, alive.

LBJ: All right. We need a space center in Texas.

JFK: Sure.

LBJ: Let’s get something for Alabama, too. Then I can twist Heflin’s arm on the Ways and Means thing.

JFK: Done.

LBJ: And a Jap masseuse for the VP mansion

JFK: What? That song is getting to your head.

LBJ: [falsetto] You took your love away from me. [Normal voice] Always gives me wood.

* This is an anachronism; the Big Mac was introduced in 1971. **

** The single asterisk means a footnote, not an LBJ profanity. So does two asterisks.

The George C. Marshall Space Center was built in Huntsville, and Alabama was in the thick of the space race. The only problem: getting to I-65 and the rest of the country was a painful stop-and-go slog down Rt. 72A. This problem continued well into the 1980s. Finally in 1987 construction started on an interstate-grade spur, to be called I-565. On Oct. 26, 1991, the highway was completely opened.

They’re planning extensions on both ends: a few miles east along US 72, and possibly many miles west, to Florence, following Rt. 72A through Decatur. If I-22 can happen, perhaps this segment of the long-planned Memphis to Atlanta highway (Corridor V) can also come to fruition.

More resources:

Malfunction Junction (not that bad)

Corridor V (Memphis to Chattanooga)

I-565 at (with a WHL-360 at the I-65 junction)


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