Bertram Dalley Tallamy, who served as a leading figure in the development of the U.S. highways network, was born on December. 1, 1901, in Plainfield, New Jersey. Tallamy received a degree in civil engineering from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1925, and subsequently acquired substantial engineering experience in waterworks, dams, sewage treatment plants, roads, and bridges.
In 1945, Tallamy was named deputy superintendent of the New York State Department of Public Works. (This agency became part of the present-day New York State Department of Transportation in 1967.) Tallamy was promoted to chief engineer of the New York State Department of Public Works in 1947. The following year, he was appointed superintendent. One of Tallamy’s key achievements involved supervising and promoting the construction of what is now officially called the Thomas E. Dewey Thruway. In 1950, Tallamy took on yet another leadership role as chairman of the newly created New York State Thruway Authority.
Tallamy likewise assumed leadership responsibilities on behalf of the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO). He was elected a member of the association’s Executive Committee in 1948, and the following year became first vice president. Tallamy was elected AASHO’s 39th president at the annual meeting of the association in Omaha, Nebraska, in October 1951.
Tallamy became AASHO president at a time filled with unprecedented changes and challenges for highways development nationwide. The United States was facing a dramatic upsurge in population, motor vehicles ownership, and traffic, and states had to deal with the consequent need to build and maintain highways that could accommodate those ever-increasing numbers. With World War II still a recent memory and the Cold War taking deeper root each year, there was also a strong demand for highways that could serve as a lifeline for national defense.
As AASHO president, Tallamy emphasized the growing importance of the nation’s highways and the need to sustain and adequately fund that transportation network. He focused on cultivating stronger public support for improved highways and advocating for the passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1952 (at the time the largest federal-aid measure of its kind).
Tallamy remained New York’s Superintendent of Public Works until December 1954. A couple of years later, he was sworn in by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks as the first Federal Highway Administrator to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Tallamy, who served in that position until 1961, directed the initial construction of the newly authorized Interstate Highway System.
After leaving the Federal Highway Administration, Tallamy remained in the nation’s capital as a consulting engineer and stayed active in that capacity until 1970. He died on September 14, 1989, in Washington, D.C., at the age of 87.
For more information on Bertram D. Tallamy, please check out https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/50tallamy.cfm and his 19 September 1989 New York Times obituary at https://www.nytimes.com/1989/09/19/obituaries/bertram-d-tallamy-87-official-for-us-and-new-york-highways.html