Interstate 93 was dedicated to Derry native Alan Shepard in 1961, the year he became the first American in space, and before the highway was even completed.
On Friday, state officials rededicated the corridor between the Massachusetts border and Manchester the Alan B. Shepard Jr. Highway.
The occasion marked the completion of a 35-year project to widen and improve the highway.
Gov. Chris Sununu, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan and Rep. Chris Pappas spoke during the ceremony.
“His 15 minutes in space, during his first flight, changed the world,” Pappas said of Shepard. “Incidentally, that’s the time now it takes to get from the Manchester line to Salem on this new highway here.”
One of Shepard’s daughters, Laura Churchley of Evergreen, Colo., also shared some memories of her father and showed a replica of the modular six-iron golf club Shepard famously used to hit balls on the surface of the moon.
“Daddy would be very pleased,” Churchley said of the dedication.
A staffer read a letter from Rep. Annie Kuster and Department of Transportation Commissioner Victoria Sheehan read a proclamation from the state Senate congratulating the department on completing the highway project.
A sign with Shepard’s name was unveiled at the end.
Churchley, her sister Julie Jenkins of Wimberley, Texas, and about a dozen cousins and other family members were able to attend the ceremony, Churchley said, because they had already planned on gathering in New Hampshire for a memorial service for a family member. After the event, family members intended to go see Shepard’s former house in East Derry.
“This is kind of like coming home,” Churchley said.
Sheehan said it is fitting the highway be named after Shepard because both the interstate highway system and NASA were created by the Eisenhower administration.
“The widening of I-93 is the largest reconstruction effort the department has ever undertaken,” Sheehan said. “The project was first initiated in 1986, but it wasn’t until 2006 that construction began.”
She said the final cost of the project was $755 million. It provided four travel lanes both ways, modernized five exits, added three new park and rides, five miles of noise barriers, and resulted in 23 new bridges and 22 reconstructed bridges.
More than 580 DOT employees worked on the project, along with over 1,600 design firm and contractor employees.
Sununu said the highway is the state’s main economic artery and the corridor improvements have spurred development. He pointed to the mixed-use developments Woodmont Commons in Londonderry and Tuscan Village in Salem.
“My dad, I guess, was the guy who started the design in 1986 as governor,” Sununu said. “And I can promise you he didn’t think his 12-year-old son was gonna be the guy dedicating it 35 years later. So it probably took a little longer than originally anticipated, but it got done and it got done right.”
Hassan and Pappas emphasized the importance of infrastructure and took the opportunity to mention the infrastructure bill in Congress, which they hope to pass.
“That would be the biggest investment in infrastructure since the Eisenhower system,” Pappas said.
Shaheen said Shepard’s missions to space and the moon have informed the life of the nation, just as the events of Sept. 11, 2001 did.
She said it’s critical that the nation carry forward the same qualities Shepard embodied — his appetite for challenge and his dedication for being the very best — and support the advancement of science and STEM education.
The ceremony was held at a DOT storage shed just south of Exit 4 in Derry.