Interstate 35 serves the heartland of America, connecting South Texas with the Arrowhead of Minnesota. Starting in Laredo, IH 35 ventures north through an arid region to San Antonio, where it briefly overlaps with Interstate 10 by Downtown. The freeway angles northeast from there along a busy corridor to the capital city of Austin, Waco and Hillsboro where it partitions into east and west branches. Interstate 35W serves Fort Worth while Interstate 35E retains the exit numbering scheme of IH 35 through Dallas. The two reconvene at Denton, where IH 35 resumes a northward heading to Gainesville and a crossing of the Red River into Oklahoma.
Leaving the Lone Star State behind, Interstate 35 travels north to Ardmore and the scenic Arbuckle Mountains ahead of Pauls Valley. The freeway continues to Norman, home of the University of Oklahoma, and Moore, a south suburb of Oklahoma City. Once in OKC, I-35 overlaps with I-40 to the southeast of Downtown and with I-44 from Lake Aluma to Lake Arcadia. The freeway advances from Edmond and the northern suburbs along a rural course to Perry and the Cimarron Turnpike (U.S. 412).
Paralleling U.S. 77, then U.S. 177, I-35 crosses into Kansas north of Blackwell. A 123 mile long section of Interstate 35 through southern Kansas overlays the Kansas Turnpike. The toll road extends north from near the Oklahoma state line to Emporia. The remainder of the turnpike northeast to Kansas City includes all of I-335 and portions of I-470 and I-70.
Most of the Kansas Turnpike is characterized by four lanes with a concrete barrier separating the north and southbound roadways. This view looks northeast at I-35 from the trumpet interchange with Interstate 135 north into Wichita. 10/20/03
The northern heading of Interstate 35 shifts northeastward at Wichita, with Interstate 135 (Former I-35W) branching northward to Salina and I-70. I-35 remains along the tolled Kansas Turnpike northeast to El Dorado and across the Flint Hills to Emporia, where it splits for an easterly route via Ottawa and Olathe. Turning more northeast, I-35 progresses through Overland Park, Shawnee and other suburban cities to Kansas City, Kansas and Downtown Kansas City, Missouri.
I-29, I-35, I-70 and I-670 come together to encircle the central business district of Kansas City. These routes form an inner belt, and the exits along the route are all numbered 2 with a suffix. This is known as the Alphabet Loop, as lettered suffixes are used from 2A through 2Y except for the letters I and O. I-35 briefly overlaps with I-70 on the north side of Downtown and with I-29 from the split with I-70 to Avondale.
Heading away from Kansas City, Interstate 35 remains suburban to Liberty and the split with U.S. 69. A signing anomaly takes place along this stretch as Missouri Route 110, the Chicago Kansas City Expressway, takes precedence on confirming markers posted along the freeway mainline from Interstate 435 northward to Cameron. This MoDOT signing practice also takes place along I-70 where it overlaps with U.S. 24/40 in Kansas City and on I-44 where it overlaps with U.S. 50 to the southwest of St. Louis. Interstate markers are omitted from shield assemblies on the mainlines of all three overlaps.
The terrain becomes hilly as Interstate 35 advances northward to Bethany. Crossing the Iowa state line continues by Lamoni to Osceola and the capital city of Des Moines. I-35 combines with I-80 to the west and north of the city while Interstate 235 loops east to Downtown. I-35 exits the Des Moines area northward via Ankeny, Ames – the home of Iowa State University, and Mason City.
The Avenue of the Saints Corridor, Iowa 27, accompanies I-35 north from U.S. 18 and Clear Lake into southern Minnesota. A short distance beyond the state line is Albert Lea and the crossroads with Interstate 90. The rural freeway extends north from there to Owatonna, Faribault and the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
Like Dallas-Fort Worth in Texas, Interstate 35 again partitions into separate branches. I-35W stays northward from Burnsville to Bloomington, Downtown Minneapolis, Mounds View and Lino Lakes while I-35E continues the I-35 exit numbers northeast to Apple Valley, St. Paul, White Bear Lake and Centerville. The remainder of I-35 extends northward from near Forest Lake to Hinckley, Moose Lake and the Twin Ports of Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin.
Proponents of the I-35 Corridor refer to it as the “real” NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) highway, since the proposed NAFTA Highway (Interstate 69) is currently incomplete. I-35, together with I-29, provides a direct freeway connection between Mexico and Canada. Interstate 35 concludes at Duluth, Minnesota, 148 miles southwest of the Canadian line, nearly affording it border-to-border status from Laredo, Texas.
Interstate 35 in its entirety is part of High Priority Corridor 23: Interstate Route 35 Corridor.
Parallel U.S. Routes
Interstate 35 replaced all of U.S. 81 from Laredo north to Hillsboro (I-35W replaced U.S. 81 northward to Blue Mound and Wautaga). The southernmost 18 miles doubles as U.S. 83 as well. Overlaps further north include U.S. 190 between Belton and Temple, U.S. 77 from Waco to Hillsboro (I-35E maintains an unsigned overlap with U.S. 77 northward through Dallas) and U.S. 77 again from Denton to Exit 1 in Oklahoma. U.S. 77 parallels or overlaps with I-35 through Oklahoma to Tonkawa. Shorter overlaps also exist in the Sooner State with U.S. 70 and U.S. 64.
U.S. 81 rejoins the Interstate 35 corridor from South Haven to Wichita in southern Kansas. Where I-35 leaves the Kansas Turnpike, U.S. 50 takes over as the parallel highway or cosigned route. The pair head east from Emporia to Interstate 435, where U.S. 50 parts ways for Lees Summit, Missouri. U.S. 56 east from Gardner and U.S. 169 north from Olathe also join I-35 northward to Overland Park. There U.S 69 briefly forms a four way overlap with the freeway before U.S. 56 & 169 separate for Shawnee Mission Parkway at Merriam. U.S. 69 follows suit and parts ways for the 18th Street Expressway north into Kansas City.
U.S. 24, U.S. 40, U.S. 71 and U.S. 169 tie into the Alphabet Loop at various locations. Heading north from there, U.S. 71 accompanies the I-29/35 overlap, staying with Interstate 29 to St. Joseph. This leaves I-35 to travel solo briefly before U.S. 69 rejoins the corridor from Claycomo north to Osceola, Iowa and again from Des Moines to Blairsburg.
U.S. 18 overlaps with I-35 at Clear Lake. Northward into Minnesota, U.S. 65 and U.S. 69 come to separate ends at Albert Lea. U.S. 69 ends at Minnesota Trunk Highway 13 (former U.S. 16) west of Downtown while U.S. 65 ends at I-35 south of Interstate 90. U.S. 65 historically ran north along what is now I-35 to Minneapolis. Another truncated route, U.S. 8, paralleled / overlapped with I-35W from Downtown Minneapolis to Forest Lake. The route now begins at I-35, one exit south of the truncated end of U.S. 61. Historic U.S. 61 lines the I-35 corridor northward from Wyoming to Duluth.
Until 2013, when IH 69C and IH 69E were established, the only two remaining split routes (route numbers with a letter suffix indicating direction) in the Interstate Highway System were the Interstate 35 branches through Dallas/Ft. Worth and Minneapolis/St. Paul. The other suffixed route along I-35, Interstate 35W between Wichita and Salina, was replaced with Interstate 135 in 1976.
An American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) study to eliminate cardinal initials on Interstate Routes offered recommendations for Interstate 35 on January 18, 1973:16
Dallas – Fort Worth Area
Changes were made in September 1971, relocating IH 20 south of Downtown Fort Worth and Dallas, and extending IH 30 west over what was IH 20 through Fort Worth. Recommendations to eliminate cardinal initials on IH 35:
- Renumber IH 35E north from the split with IH 35W at Hillsboro to Dallas as a southwestern extension of IH 30.
- Renumber IH 35E north from Dallas to Denton as a northwestern extension of IH 45.
- Renumber all of IH 35W as IH 35.
- Renumber IH 635 around Dallas as IH 645
- Renumber IH 30 from west of Fort Worth to Downtown Dallas as either IH 230 or IH 245.
Wichita / Salina, Kansas
The recommendation for I-35W between Wichita and I-70 northwest of Salina, outlined renumbering the 95.7 mile long route as I-31. I-235, the freeway loop around Wichita, was recommended for renumbering to I-231.
Minneapolis – St. Paul Area
The reasonable solution advocated for the Twin Cities specified renumbering one of the routes as a loop. This was due to the more complicated alignment and geometrics along I-35W when compared to I-35E. Recommendations called for renumbering I-35W as I-235 and I-35E as Interstate 35. It was believed that I-35E was the more direct and less confusing route for through traffic. An additional suggestion was to combine I-494 and I-694 into a single belt route.
Within Texas, Interstate 35 was an original Interstate Highway, and it was approved by the Texas State Highway Commission in 1962 with 492 miles (this figure includes both IH 35E and IH 35W).7 The segment of Interstate 35 through Austin was completed in 1962.
Within Oklahoma, the first section of Interstate 35 to be opened to traffic was the four-mile connection from U.S. 177 (Exit 232) north to the Kansas Turnpike. This connection opened on April 22, 1958, and it was considered to be the first Interstate highway to cross state lines and connect to another state.9
Interstate 35 through the Ardmore, Oklahoma area in Carter County was reconstructed in a two phase project. The first phase affected seven miles of I-35 from a point seven miles north of U.S. 70 to the Murray County line (Exits 40 to 47). This portion of the overall 12 mile long project was completed in Fall 2003. The second phase of the project began ran throughout 2004.1
Further north, an Interstate 35 long term widening and reconstruction project entered its final phase in 2003. 14 months of construction expanded a 1.5 mile segment between S.E. 82nd Street and S.E. 66th Street in Oklahoma City. The new travel lanes were built within the median of the existing right of way. This stretch of freeway accommodated 74,000 vehicles per day (vpd) at the time. Upon completion, the $23 million project concluded the overall I-35 widening from the city of Norman northward to Interstate 40 in Oklahoma City.2