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. Built in the 1950s, Skelly Drive takes Interstate 44 east across Tulsa to the Creek and Will Rogers Turnpikes by Catoosa. The Will Rogers Turnpike carries the remainder of I-44 northeast 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 I-64 and I-70. A slight extension was made in 2015 over what was I-70 by the Gateway Arch and Downtown St. Louis 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 regional traffic along I-44 headed through Tulsa. It was assigned the designation of SH 364 by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) 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
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 I-44 from Oklahoma City northeast to St. Louis, replaced famous U.S. 66, although much of that route survives as Oklahoma Highway 66, Missouri Route 66 or Business Loop I-44.
IH 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 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 west end of IH 44 was previously located at the exchange joining IH 35 with the Turner Turnpike in north Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The extension southwest to Texas was approved by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) on June 28, 1982. Part of this involved renumbering the northern and western portions of the I-240 urban loop encircling Oklahoma City a part of I-44. It also designated I-44 along the previously unnumbered H.E. Bailey Turnpike, and along side the freeway for U.S. 62 connecting the Turnpike north end (U.S. 62/277) 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 I-44 from the north end of the H.E. Bailey Turnpike to SW 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 SH 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. Outlined for 2006 at a cost of $13.6 million, the next section of I-44 expanded to six lanes was the section 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 I-44 from Skelly Drive onto the Will Rogers Turnpike. The previous alignment of I-44 split with U.S. 412 east leading directly to the partition with SH 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 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.