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.
The abandoned section of the Will Rogers Turnpike east of Pine Street in Catoosa, Oklahoma. Photo taken by 11/02/16.
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.
Interstate 44 east leads directly into Interstate 70 west at the end of the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo taken by Chris Kalina (03/08/14).
An older end sign for I-44 east preceded the Compton Avenue overpass at the Compton Heights neighborhood of St. Louis. Photo taken by Rich Piehl (11/00).
A sign for an Amtrak Station at Exit 290B took the place of this end I-44 assembly by 2014. Interstate 44 previously continued north along side I-55 as an unsigned route to the Poplar Street Bridge east. Photo taken by Jeff Morrison (04/19/08).
Interstate 44 east at the off-ramp (Exit 289) for Jefferson Avenue north to Lafayette Square and south to McKinley Heights. The subsequent off-ramp to Lafayette Street is a remnant from the defunct Missouri 755 freeway loop proposed around the west side of Downtown St. Louis. Photo taken by Jeff Morrison (04/19/08).
Interstate 44 concluded its three state journey as Exit 290B (Lafayette Avenue, former 18th Street exit) and Exit 290A (Interstate 55 south) departed towards their respective directions while the mainline transitioned onto I-55 northbound. Photo taken by Jeff Morrison (04/19/08).
Perspective from Poplar Street Bridge (Interstates 55, 64, 70/U.S. 40)
Interstates 55-64-70 and U.S. 40 combined west across the Poplar Street Bridge from East St. Louis, Illinois to Downtown St Louis, Missouri. Initial signs referenced the forthcoming TOTSO movements of I-70 west to Memorial Drive and I-55 south to Interstate 44 west. Photo taken 10/16/04.
The Poplar Street Bridge carried four westbound lanes with no shoulders across the Mississippi River. Interstate 64 & U.S. 40 extend west from the left two lanes to Wentzville while back to back lane drops followed for I-70 west by the Gateway Arch and I-44 west / I-55 south. An arrow per lane (APL) sign is positioned here now. Photo taken 10/16/04.
The original interchange at the Poplar Street Bridge west end separated departing traffic into narrow single lane ramps. Both were demolished in 2015-16 as part of the reconstruction of Interstate 44 (former I-70) north between the Gateway and Downtown. Photo taken 10/16/04.
Exit 40C took the Interstate 55 mainline onto the below grade freeway extending south from then I-70 east and Downtown. This ramp was replaced by a new two-lane flyover in 2016. Photo taken by Brian Dowd (06/29/02).
Perspective from Interstate 55 south
Interstate 55 angles southwest from the Poplar Street Bridge along a viaduct by the LaSalle Park community on the 0.75-mile approach to Exit 207 with I-44 west. Photo taken by Brian Dowd (09/28/02).
Interstate 55 lowers to grade level by the Soulard community and curves west to the directional T interchange (former Exit 207) with Interstate 44 west. This stretch now uses exit numbers for I-44, with the mainline of I-55 assigned as left Exit 290B. Photo taken by Brian Dowd (09/27/02).
Traffic partitioned with two lanes for the continuation of I-55 south to Cape Girardeau and Memphis, Tennessee and two lanes for the beginning of I-44 west to Rolla, Springfield, Joplin and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo taken by Brian Dowd (09/28/02).
Perspective from Interstate 55 north
Heading north between the Kosciusko and Soulard communities, Interstate 55 approached the eft-hand ramps for both Interstate 44 west and Lafayette Avenue / Truman Parkway. Had the Missouri 755 freeway been completed, it would have provided connectivity from I-44 east & 55 north to I-64 & U.S. 40 west and from vice versa. Photo taken by Brian Dowd (09/27/02).
Older signs posted at Exit 207A omitted Missouri 30 for Gravois Avenue and Tulsa for Interstate 44 west. Subsequent changes renumbered the left-hand ramp to Exit 207B and replaced Truman Parkway for Lafayette Street. Truman Parkway was developed in place of the cancelled North South Distributor Freeway freeway. Photo taken by Brian Dowd (09/27/02).
Taking left-hand ramp (Exit 207B) from I-55 north, motorists partitioned along a sharp curve for Interstate 44 west ahead of The Gate District and a two-lane ramp to Lafayette Street. Photo taken by Brian Dowd (09/28/02).
Perspective from Interstate 70 eastbound
The first reference of Interstate 44 from I-70 east appeared two miles ahead of the Poplar Street Bridge. Photo taken by Don Hargraves (02/14/03).
Continuing south toward the Gateway Arch, Interstate 70 shifted from an elevated viaduct by the Eads Bridge to a below grade freeway leading directly to I-55 south. Photo taken by Don Hargraves (02/14/03).
Passing below overpasses linking Downtown with Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, drivers passed below this diagrammatic sign out lining the TOTSO movement of Interstate 70 east onto the Poplar Street Bridge (I-55 north). The freeway mainline defaulted onto I-55 south ahead of I-44 west. Photo taken by Michael Summa (1981).
Later sign changes added I-64, reflecting the 1993 extension west across St. Louis, and the long distance cities of Tulsa and Memphis for I-44 west and I-55 south respectively. Photo taken by Don Hargraves (02/14/03).
Interstate 70 turned east onto the Poplar Street Bridge to combine with I-55 north & 64 east to East St. Louis. I-55 south merged with unsigned I-44 through LaSalle Park. With Interstate 70 relocated away from the trenched section of freeway by Downtown, this ramp was eventually demolished. Photo taken by Don Hargraves (02/14/03).
West End – Wichita Falls, Texas
Perspective from Interstate 44 west & U.S. 277-281-287 south
The final confirming marker for Interstate 44 west stands just south of the Central Freeway bridge across the Wichita River. Photo taken 09/06/09.
U.S. 277 Business stems west from I-44 & U.S. 277-281-287 to run along the former alignment of both U.S. 82 and 277 to the Kell Freeway at Allendale Road. Exit 1 follows onto Holliday Street for 6th Street east into the Wichita Falls Business District.
The overhead for Exit 1 was removed following the completion of the systems interchange with the Kell Freeway. Photo taken 09/06/09.
Interstate 44 ends as the two-lane off-ramp (Exit 1) departs the Central Freeway south for Holliday Street (old U.S. 277-281-277 south). U.S. 277 splits with U.S. 281 & 287 toward Abilene at the ensuing exchange. Photo taken 09/06/09.
Historic Perspective from Interstate 44 west & U.S. 277-281-287 south
U.S. 281 & 287 transitioned onto the Central Freeway viaduct above Holliday Street while U.S. 277 shifted onto the surface street south to Kell Boulevard and U.S. 82. Photo taken by Justin Cozart (09/02).
Perspective from U.S. 277-281-287 north
U.S. 82 west separates with U.S. 281 & 287 north ahead of the Central Freeway viaducts and IH 44 to join U.S. 277 southbound along the Kell Freeway. First proposed in 1964, the Kell Freeway was completed with the opening of a 3.5 mile segment west from Fairway Boulevard to FM 369. Work on the $28 million final section ran from January 2008 to September 24, 2009.12 Photo taken 09/06/09.
U.S. 277 combines with U.S. 281 & 287 (Central Freeway) north from the Kell Freeway. The trio elevate just west of Downtown Wichita Falls to the 6th Street off-ramp and the start of Interstate 44. Photo taken 09/06/09.
Broad Street north passes by Bellevue Park ahead of 8th Street and the off-ramp for the eastbound beginning of IH 44. Photo taken 09/06/09.
Milepost zero appears along the Broad Street ramp above 7th Street. The 6th Street flyover passes overhead from U.S. 277-281-287 (Central Freeway) north. Photo taken 09/06/09.
The separate roadways of the Central Freeway converge ahead of 8th Street (U.S. 277 Business). Interstate 44 east and U.S. 277-281-287 proceed north 2.5 miles to the Northwest Freeway, where U.S. 287 branches west toward Vernon. Photo taken 09/06/09.
Historic Perspective from U.S. 277-281-287 north
An older overpass took U.S. 281 & 287 northward across a Forth Worth and Denver Railroad line and Kell Boulevard, 1.7 miles south of the IH 44 eastbound beginning. U.S. 82 west departed from an on-ramp here to join U.S. 277 (Kell Boulevard) south at FM 447. Photo taken by Jeff Royston (12/00).
Shields posted along Broad Street north for IH 44 east and U.S. 277-281-277 north during the elevated freeway project. Photo taken by Jeff Royston (12/00).
“Section of I-44 in Tulsa set to open over a month early.” Oklahoma DOT Public Affairs Media Advisory, August 01, 2003.
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.
Cities – Lawton, Chickasha, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Vinita, Miami
Missouri – 293.39
Cities – Joplin, Springfield, Lebanon, Rolla, Sullivan, St. Louis
Source: December 31, 2017 Interstate Route Log and Finders List
* – 4.37 miles on I-35
State-named shield for IH 44 west posted after the North 8th Street on-ramp at Wichita Falls, Texas. U.S. 277 overlaps with Interstate 44 north to Randlett, Oklahoma while U.S. 281 runs concurrent with the freeway for 61 miles through Lawton. Photo taken 09/06/09.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1962
Interstate 44 follows Skelly Drive, the original expressway bypass of U.S. 66, between the Turner and Will Rogers Turnpikes across Tulsa.
South Central Missouri – 1974
Construction for Interstate 44 directly upgraded several four-lane sections of U.S. 66 throughout the ShowMe State.
Downtown St. Louis, Missouri – 1968
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.