Angling northeast from Wichita Falls, Texas to St. Louis, Missouri, Interstate 44 connects the southern Great Plains with the Upper Midwest. Three sections through Oklahoma take toll roads including the H.E. Bailey Turnpike from U.S. 70 near Randlett to Lawton and again from Lawton to Oklahoma City. The Turner Turnpike extends I-44 east from Interstate 35 near Edmond to Sapulpa southwest of Tulsa. The 1950s-built Skelly Drive takes Interstate 44 east across Tulsa to the Creek and Will Rogers Turnpikes by Catoosa. The Will Rogers carries the remainder of I-44 through Oklahoma to the Missouri state line by Joplin.
Throughout Missouri, Interstate 44 overlaid or parallels Historic U.S. 66 as it travels east to Springfield and northeast to St. Robert, Rolla and greater St. Louis. The eastern extent combines with I-55 north to the Poplar Street Bridge, where it formerly turned east and ended along side Interstates 64 and 70. A slight extension was made in 2015 over what was I-70 by the Gateway Arch and Downtown to the newly opened Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.
The SAFETEA-LU of 2005 added the Creek Turnpike as a future segment of the Interstate Highway System. However, no numerical designation was assigned. The language is found in Section 1908(a)(1), INCLUSION OF CERTAIN ROUTE SEGMENTS ON INTERSTATE SYSTEM AND NHS:
CREEK TURNPIKE, OKLAHOMA.-The Secretary shall designate as part of the Interstate System (as defined in section 101 of title 23, United States Code) in accordance with section 103(c)(4) of such title the portion of the Creek Turnpike connecting Interstate Route 44 east and west of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
As such, the Creek Turnpike is signed with Joplin and Oklahoma City for long-distance travelers along I-44 headed through Tulsa. It was given the designation of SH 364 by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation on March 10, 2014. The same minutes included the numbering of SH 351 for the previously unnumbered portions of the Muskogee Turnpike from Tulsa southeast to I-40 near Webbers Falls.7
Parallel U.S. Routes
Between Wichita Falls and Lawton, Interstate 44 follows U.S. 277 and U.S. 281. Northeast from Lawton to Oklahoma City, the H.E. Bailey Turnpike portion of I-44 follows U.S. 62-277. The remainder of Interstate 44 from Oklahoma City northeast to St. Louis, replaced famous U.S. 66, although much of that route survives as Oklahoma 66, Missouri 66 or Business Loop I-44.
Interstate 44 was approved by the Texas State Highway Commission on August 12, 1982 with 15.398 miles from 8th Street in Wichita Falls northerly with U.S. 277 & 281 to the Oklahoma line by the city of Burkburnett.2 This addition allowed the designation to continue southwest from Oklahoma City to Wichita Falls via Lawton along the Oklahoma Turnpike system.3
Interstate 44 begins along the Central Freeway (U.S. 277-281-287) where the Broad and Holiday Street ramps tie in from 8th Street near Downtown Wichita Falls. Previously the Central Freeway ended with U.S. 277-281-287 following a one-way street couplet along Holliday Street south and Broad Street north southeast to an older freeway at 16th Street. Work starting on February 16, 1999 joined the two limited access highways by constructing a 1.7 mile long viaduct system above both Broad and Holliday Streets. With the addition of a $1.6 million flyover from U.S. 277-281-287 north to 6th Street, the $47.8 million project was finished seven months ahead of schedule on May 10, 2002.11
The western terminus was previously located at the junction between Interstates 35 and 44 at the end of the Turner Turnpike in north Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The extension southwest to Texas was approved by AASHTO on June 28, 1982. This involved renumbering the northern and western portions of the I-240 urban loop encircling Oklahoma City a part of Interstate 44. It also designated I-44 along the previously unnumbered H.E. Bailey Turnpike, and along side the U.S. 62 freeway from the Turnpike north end (U.S. 62 and 277) at Newcastle to I-240.13
The H.E. Bailey Turnpike segment of I-44 from Lawton to Oklahoma City opened on April 23, 1964. The section of Interstate 44 from the north end of the H.E. Bailey Turnpike to S.W. 29th Street in Oklahoma City opened to traffic as part of Interstate 240 in April 1976.4
The Turner Turnpike, which carries I-44 east from I-35 at the Kilpatrick Turnpike to Oklahoma 66 at Sapulpa, opened to traffic on May 16, 1953. The toll road was the first superhighway built in Oklahoma.8 It ties I-44 in with Skelly Drive, the historic U.S. 66 bypass of Downtown Tulsa.9
Originally named the 51st Street Bypass, Skelly Drive (I-44 / Historic U.S. 66) was initially planned in 1948. Discussion of the proposed route wavered between backers of a route toward Downtown and those supporting a bypass for through traffic. Ultimately the decision favored the bypass route route versus no route at all. The proposed alignment resulted in a lawsuit that went all the way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, with a 1954 ruling favoring the current route versus the original along 51st Street to Memorial Drive and then north to U.S. 66 at 11th Street.9
Renamed Skelly Drive to honor oilman W.G. Skelly, the expressway opened on November 21, 1958 at a cost of $15 million. Construction of the expressway was later investigated by a grand jury and congressional subcommittee in 1960, after allegations that substandard material was used. The grand jury indicted three principals in the construction company, but those were later dropped or dismissed.9
A $6.3 million widening in the city of Tulsa expanded Interstate 44 from four to six lanes between 41st and 31st Streets from September 2002 to August 2003. Next in line (proposed for 2006) was the $13.6 million widening to extend the six-lane portion from 41st Street to Yale Avenue (Exit 229).1
Work to construct the Creek Turnpike (SH 364) around the east side of Tulsa included the relocation of Interstate 44 from Skelly Drive onto the Will Rogers Turnpike. The former alignment of I-44 involved a split with U.S. 412 east leading directly to the partition with Oklahoma 66 north. This configuration changed in July 2002 with I-44 taking U.S. 412 east to a new cloverstack interchange with the Creek Turnpike. The Creek Turnpike south to the Muskogee Turnpike opened a month later.10
The relocation of Interstate 44 east of Tulsa at the Creek Turnpike (designated a future Interstate corridor) and U.S. 412 was approved by AASHTO on May 30, 2003. This included a new alignment for I-44 leading due south directly to the Creek Turnpike at U.S. 412. The angled portion of the Will Rogers Turnpike to SH 66 at U.S. 412 was abandoned, though ramps still link SH 66 east from I-44 east and from SH 66 west to I-44 west.
East End – St. Louis. MO
West End – Wichita Falls, TX
Branch Routes – 2
Total Mileage – 636.69
Texas – 14.77
Cities – Wichita Falls
Junctions – none
Oklahoma – 328.53*
Cities – Lawton, Chickasha, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Vinita, Miami
- Junctions –
Missouri – 293.39
Cities – Joplin, Springfield, Lebanon, Rolla, Sullivan, St. Louis
- Junctions –
Source: December 31, 2017 Interstate Route Log and Finders List
* – 4.37 miles on I-35
Interstate 44 follows Skelly Drive, the original expressway bypass of U.S. 66, between the Turner and Will Rogers Turnpikes across Tulsa.
Construction for Interstate 44 directly upgraded several four-lane sections of U.S. 66 throughout the ShowMe State.
The eastern extent of I-44 proposed at I-55 and Lafayette Avenue in 1968 (the freeway was completed through St. Louis in 1972). Ramps were built here for the incomplete North South Distributor Freeway (Missouri 755). MO 755 was scaled back in the early 1980s and dropped as a parkway in 2003.
Approval for the Will Rogers Turnpike was initiated by the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority one month after its establishment by the state Legislature in June 1953.8 The toll road features one of the largest McDonald’s restaurants in the world, at the location of the former Glass House Restaurant where it crosses over the Interstate near the city of Vinita. The Vinita Service Plaza closed on June 4, 2013 for renovation and reconstruction. The recognizable bridge and arch was retained during the $14.6-million renovation project5 completed on December 22, 2014.6
Until 2013, the eastern terminus was previously thought to be located at the Illinois/ Missouri state line on the Poplar Street Bridge (Interstates 55/64/70 and U.S. 40) across the Mississippi River. With construction of the new alignment for Interstate 70 along the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge to the north, AASHTO approved a 2.9 mile northern extension of I-44 over former I-70, from I-55 at Truman Parkway to the west end of the cable-stayed bridge. Opened on February 9, 2014, the new span shifted Interstate 70 northward away from the Poplar Street Bridge and the trenched freeway stretch by the Gateway Arch. I-44 now travels the below-grade freeway that I-70 followed from the Poplar Street Bridge northward to the Stan Musial Bridge west end at Tucker Boulevard.
Former Eastern Terminus – – St. Louis, Missouri
West End – Wichita Falls, Texas
- “Section of I-44 in Tulsa set to open over a month early.” Oklahoma DOT Public Affairs Media Advisory, August 01, 2003.
- INTERSTATE HIGHWAY NO. 44, Highway Designation File. Texas Department of Transportation.
- From Anywhere to Everywhere: The Development of the Interstate Highway System in Texas
http://tti.tamu.edu/interstate_anniversary/white_paper/by Penny Beaumont, Rhonda Brinkmann, David Ellis, Chris Pourteau, and Brandon V. Webb, Texas Transportation Institute, page 34.
- Celebrate the Interstate: America’s Interstate Highway System Turns 50!
http://www.okladot.state.ok.us/okinterstate50/by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.
- OK Turnpike Authority shutting down McDonald’s over I-44 for remodel, likely open in 2013. KJRH, March 26, 2013.
- “Iconic McDonald’s Set To Reopen Along Will Rogers Turnpike.” NewsOn6.com, December 17, 2014.
- Minutes For The Special Transportation Commission Meeting, Oklahoma Department of Transportation, March 10, 2014.
- “There’s no such thing as a ‘free highway'” Tulsa World (OK), September 16, 2002.
- “Only in Oklahoma: City bypass spawned suit, investigations.” Tulsa World, October 18, 2007.
- “Pike-bound lanes revised.” Tulsa World, July 11, 2002.
- “Central Freeway ready Road project comes to end seven months early.” Wichita Falls Times Record News (TX), May 10, 2002.
- “Kell job near done.” Wichita Falls Times Record News (TX), September 25, 2009.
- Darrell Brunson, email: “The H.E. Bailey Turnpike & I-44 at OKC,” August 13, 2017.
Page updated August 17, 2017.