Dennis Cassinelli: The Highwaymen

I started my career as a highwayman in 1960 when I went to work for the Nevada State Highway Department on the first Interstate 80 construction project in Nevada at Verdi.

After working in various capacities, I was appointed to work in the NDOT construction office in Carson City. On a team with two other engineers, we processed payments to the contractors and wrote the final reports on all the highway construction projects statewide. This involved traveling to the construction field offices on every project along the route of Interstate 80 in Northern Nevada and Interstate 15 in southern Nevada.

In the 1960s through the 1980s, the largest highway construction program ever attempted was commenced. This crossed over the Great American Desert of Nevada. It included construction of the Interstate 80 across Northern Nevada connecting Verdi, Reno, Sparks, Lovelock, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain Carlin, Elko, Wells and Wendover. At about the same time, the Interstate 15 route across the southern part of the state through Las Vegas to Mesquite was being constructed.

The population of the American West had reached the level where major east-west highway transportation could no longer be handled on narrow, two-lane highways winding their way through the mountains and deserts of Nevada. Truck transportation had largely replaced railroad transportation due to the convenience of direct point-to-point delivery. Automobile transportation had blossomed due to westward migration and the growing tourist industry.

Increasingly, political pressure forced the creation of the Interstate Highway system to meet the needs of the traveling public. Other states had begun their Interstate systems much earlier. Nevada was often considered nothing more than a vast desert that had to be crossed in order to reach California in the least time possible.

Certainly, a state with a comparatively small population could not afford to construct the hundreds of miles of Interstate highways across such vast distances without some financial assistance. People and freight had to have good roads to travel through this rugged country. The only way this could be accomplished was through federal funding assistance.

Revenue for the construction program was obtained mostly from state and federal gasoline and diesel fuel taxes. The Federal Highway Trust Fund was created to provide this assistance. In Nevada, the funds were allocated on a 90-10 percentage basis with the state having to provide only 10% of the funds.

The demand for personnel with the required skills to design, engineer and build this system created a sudden strain on the work forces available at that time. As a result, a curious collection of characters stepped forward to fill the demand and staff the crews of contractors, surveyors, inspectors, testers, engineers and design personnel.

The tremendous influx of money pouring into small Nevada towns created conditions similar to the old mining camp boomtown days. Small town bars, restaurants, motels, and boarding houses thrived on the windfall of prosperity brought about by the construction crews.

The only major cities on the southern I-15 route were Las Vegas and Mesquite. Since construction of the system, many of the smaller towns have grown to become substantial larger communities, primarily due to the prosperity brought about by proximity to the interstate.

Dennis Cassinelli is a Dayton author and historian. You can order his books at a discount on his blog at


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