Interstate 44 (I-44) is a major highway in the central United States. Its western terminus is in Wichita Falls, Texas at a concurrency with US 277, US 281 and US 287; its eastern terminus is at Interstate 55 in St. Louis, Missouri . I-44 is one of five interstates built to bypass U.S. Route 66; this highway covers the section between St. Louis and Oklahoma City. Virtually the entire length of I-44 east of Springfield, Missouri was once US 66, which was upgraded from two to four lanes from 1949 to 1955. The section of I-44 west of Springfield was built farther south than US 66 in order to connect Missouri's section with the already completed Will Rogers Turnpike, which Oklahoma wished to carry their part of I-44.
I-44 is referenced in the song "Convoy" by C.W. McCall.
|- |TX |15 |24 |- |OK |329 |530 |- |MO |290 |467 |- |Total |634 |1021 |}
I-44 begins in Wichita Falls and runs almost due north to the Texas-Oklahoma border at the Red River. Texas' segment of I-44, only about , is far shorter than the highway's mileage in Oklahoma and Missouri. In Wichita Falls, I-44 runs concurrent with , , and , and is known locally as the "Central Freeway".
I-44 in Oklahoma is mostly three separate toll roads; it is paralleled by former US 66 from Oklahoma City to the Missouri line. In southwestern Oklahoma, I-44 is the H.E. Bailey Turnpike and is mainly north–south. In the Oklahoma City area, I-44 is either six or eight lanes; it runs concurrent with I-35 for about four miles in Oklahoma City. From Oklahoma City I-44 becomes northeast–southwest as the Turner Turnpike towards Tulsa. After I-44 leaves Tulsa it becomes the Will Rogers Turnpike to the Missouri border.
A nonstandard depiction of I-44/55/64/70 in downtown St. Louis
I-44 enters Missouri southwest of Joplin near the corner of Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas. It misses the Kansas border by less than . The first exit in Missouri is for US-166. I-44 continues through the southern part of Joplin, then continues east on the former US-166 to Mount Vernon. At the northeast part of Mount Vernon, I-44 heads northeast, while old US-166 continued east on Missouri Route 174. The section of road to Halltown is a completely new road, not bypassing any previous highways. At Halltown, the road follows the general pathway of US-66 all the way to downtown St. Louis.
I-44 passes through Springfield on the north side of the city and continues northeast. At Waynesville, I-44 enters a very hilly curvy area until it passes Rolla. Although the road still passes through some hilly areas, none are as steep as that particular stretch.
At Pacific, I-44 begins to widen to six lanes, later to eight lanes. The interstate continues into the suburbs of St. Louis, finally ending near the Mississippi River at the intersection with I-55. Plans for the New Mississippi River Bridge will result in a planned extension by MoDOT of I-44 northward, multiplexing with I-55 briefly until I-55 crosses the Poplar Street Bridge, and then taking over the former route of I-70 to where it meets the new bridge.
At some places, an "Alternate I-44" is posted. One such ran between Rolla and Springfield via US-60 and US-63 and another ran via US-63 and US-50 between Rolla and Union. These were done to provide traffic relief during road work. The latter of these alternate routes detoured traffic around three hour delays due to road work near Cuba.
I-44 was originally signed in 1958 as an Interstate designation of the Turner Turnpike linking Oklahoma City and Tulsa and the Will Rogers Turnpike linking Tulsa and the Missouri state line southwest of Joplin, along with the US 66 bypass in Tulsa that linked that city with the two turnpikes and the continued four-lane highway from the Missouri border to an interchange with US 71 south of Joplin previously designated as US 166.
I-44 in Oklahoma City
As U.S. 66 was being bypassed by I-44, the Route 66 Association requested the designation Interstate 66 for I-44 from St. Louis to Oklahoma City. AASHTO rejected the request.
At the time the I-44 designation was assigned in Oklahoma in the 1950s, Oklahoma signed the milemarkers west to east starting at Turner Turnpike's Oklahoma City terminus at the I-44/I-35 interchange (near Edmond). I-44 was extended in 1982 southwest of Oklahoma City along the existing H.E. Bailey Turnpike, thus raising the milemarkers by about 100. The addition of the new section was unusual in that it is a more north/south segment, and didn't directly connect to the previous western end at Interstate 35. It now extends south of Interstate 40, thus going beyond the usual Interstate numbering conventions.
What was once I-244 around St. Louis is currently part of that city's I-270/I-255 beltway.
During the historic 1999 Oklahoma tornado outbreak, an F5 tornado crossed Interstate 44. This particular tornado had the fastest tornado wind speeds on record. The interstate was severely damaged where the tornado crossed it. In the end, this tornado was blamed for 36 deaths.
A section of I-44 was moved slightly north between Powellville, Missouri and Doolittle. The old road is highly visible for eastbound traffic near Powellville. , the rocks carved away for the new roadbed have virtually no lichen, reflecting that this construction occurred rather recently.
Main article: Business routes of Interstate 44.
All business loops of Interstate 44 are located in Missouri. They serve Joplin, Sarcoxie, Mount Vernon, Springfield, Lebanon, Waynesville-St. Robert, Rolla, and Pacific. A business spur links I-44 with Fort Leonard Wood.
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