John Borchert was my best faculty friend for over 47 years.
We had PhD’s from Wisconsin, but did not know each other when we were there.
We both were fascinated by maps, and with transportation.
The 1956 Interstate and Defense Highway Act was a challenge to research. We submitted a joint proposal to the Bureau of Public roads and received a grant of $250,000 to study the Economic Impact of Highways on Minnesota; in 1956 dollars – roughly equivalent to $1.5 million today.
There was no readily available administrative procedure to handle the grant in CLA. So it was administered through the Agricultural Experiment Station. Some key features:
No part of the funds could be used for faculty salaries.
No withholding for administrative overhead except as regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Experiment Station grants.
It precipitated a review of University of Minnesota procedures in deducting administrative overhead from research grant funds.
It triggered the establishment of a research component for Highway Impact studies in the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
It facilitated cross-disciplinary cooperation between CLA and IT, by drawing in research partners from Civil Engineering.
It produced approximately 20 research reports.
It helped finance some two dozen graduate students in Geography and Agricultural Economics.
It provided an institutional framework for voicing, and deflecting, smaller town and farm opposition to the Interstate Highway. It was designed to by-pass towns. It did not follow section lines. It cut diagonally across farms. Opportunities for protest were legion.
It gave impetus to the ultimate establishment of CURA, the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota. I know from frequent conversations with John that his work through the Agricultural Experiment Station on the Highway Project had a seminal influence in his later role in promoting CURA.
John Borchert and I cannot claim any credit for the decision to position the Highway Project in the Agricultural Experiment Station. There was no other functional place to put it. But it was an exceptionally productive experience.
It also produced a wealth of lifetime memories. One that I want to recall now is of a trip John and Jane, Marian and I, took by train down the Mississippi River corridor in April to Savanna, Illinois, and then into Chicago from the west in the late afternoon. It didn’t get any better than this for a geographer and a land economist. The official purpose was to report on the Highway Project to a regional conference. The reality was that four good friends were having a Spring-time Ball.