In 1964, the President’s Appalachian Regional Commission (PARC) reported to Congress that economic growth in Appalachia would not be possible until the region’s isolation had been overcome. Because the cost of building highways through Appalachia’s mountainous terrain was high, the region's local residents had never been served by adequate roads. The existing network of narrow, winding, two-lane roads, snaking through narrow stream valleys or over mountaintops, was slow to drive, unsafe, and in many places worn out. The nation's Interstate Highway System, though extensive through the region, was designed to serve cross-country traffic rather than local residents.
The PARC report and the Appalachian governors placed top priority on a modern highway system as the key to economic development. As a result, Congress authorized the construction of the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS) in the Appalachian Development Act of 1965. The ADHS was designed to generate economic development in previously isolated areas, supplement the interstate system, and provide access to areas within the Region as well as to markets in the rest of the nation. The system has served its intended purpose to varying degrees of success.
Currently, the ADHS is authorized at 3,090 miles, including 65 miles added in January 2004 by Public Law 108-199. By the end of FY 2004, 2,627 miles—approximately 85 percent of the 3,090 miles authorized—were complete or under construction. Many of the remaining miles will be among the most expensive to build.