Interstate System & Tulsa History

GoldenCaneKC

I.T.S. Junior
Jul 3, 2006
813
388
63
Does anyone know why I-35 goes through Wichita instead of Tulsa on its way from KC to OKC? I was looking at a map and it seems like it could have gone either route.

Assuming it was a decision made a long time ago, but it’s crazy to think about the knock-on effects that decision has had on Tulsa over the decades.
 

Gold*

Serious Cat Circle of Honor
Gold Member
Dec 3, 2003
35,484
10,591
113
Legislature found every possible way to screw Tulsa. We pay taxes to state and don’t collect taxes from tribes. It’s amazing what the city has done with so many unique problems.
 

noble cane

I.T.S. Athletic Director
Feb 25, 2002
8,759
2,619
113
Legislature found every possible way to screw Tulsa. We pay taxes to state and don’t collect taxes from tribes. It’s amazing what the city has done with so many unique problems.
I love how every major road in or out of Tulsa is a turnpike...
Now the OTA is bringing one to my neck of the woods..
 
  • Like
Reactions: Gold*

TU 1978

I.T.S. University President
Gold Member
Jan 30, 2009
10,495
3,797
113
and to think that OKC stole the state seal in the dead of the night to relocate the capital from Guthrie.
 

HuffyCane

I.T.S. Hall of Famer
Gold Member
Dec 25, 2004
16,925
9,633
113
I could write for hours on this subject. It might surprise you, but two Tulsans played key roles in federal highway development and regulation in the 1920s and 1930s. We had a seat at the table.

The short answer to why we got toll roads and OKC didn’t is political, cultural and geographic.

Unlike the west part of the State divided later to Indian settlement, northeastern Oklahoma had a long tradition of toll roads and toll bridges that predates even the forced arrival of tribes from the East. Many of these continued to operate in private hands into the 1940s. People didn’t like paying the tolls, but they were a part of life in the area almost up until the formation of the Turnpike Authority in the 50’s. So having toll roads made cultural sense and it was a way of having construction pay for itself. Something popular with rural farmers who wanted limited road tax dollars spent on roads to get their kids to school and bridges over waterways.

The second reason is federal/geographical. The Interstate Highway system wasn’t created for you and I to drive on it. Eisenhower, due to his frustrating experience as a young officer moving equipment cross country, built the system to move tanks across great distances if we were invaded. When we aren’t being invaded, you are allowed to drive on them. Returning GIs also politically demanded the roads after returning home from driving on the Autobahn and it employed a lot of guys that had no job skills except killing enemies.

So our highway system is designed to connect key military bases, ports, and railroad depots/spurs. OKC is geographically lined up with several in Texas north/south running up to the Dakotas including military assets in Western Kansas. It also provides a spoke interchange as well for the highway that parallels the train tracks running from the Port of Los Angeles. It also had one of the better airports in existence in 1952. So they got a lot of federal money we didn’t.

There was a lot of political skullduggery designed to limit the road development of Tulsa, and therefore the tax base, to favor personal political career arcs, but that’s not a message. That’s a conversation.

Hope this helps. I’m here to inform and entertain.
 

Gmoney4WW

I.T.S. Legend
Gold Member
Jul 4, 2007
22,409
8,358
113
I could write for hours on this subject. It might surprise you, but two Tulsans played key roles in federal highway development and regulation in the 1920s and 1930s. We had a seat at the table.

The short answer to why we got toll roads and OKC didn’t is political, cultural and geographic.

Unlike the west part of the State divided later to Indian settlement, northeastern Oklahoma had a long tradition of toll roads and toll bridges that predates even the forced arrival of tribes from the East. Many of these continued to operate in private hands into the 1940s. People didn’t like paying the tolls, but they were a part of life in the area almost up until the formation of the Turnpike Authority in the 50’s. So having toll roads made cultural sense and it was a way of having construction pay for itself. Something popular with rural farmers who wanted limited road tax dollars spent on roads to get their kids to school and bridges over waterways.

The second reason is federal/geographical. The Interstate Highway system wasn’t created for you and I to drive on it. Eisenhower, due to his frustrating experience as a young officer moving equipment cross country, built the system to move tanks across great distances if we were invaded. When we aren’t being invaded, you are allowed to drive on them. Returning GIs also politically demanded the roads after returning home from driving on the Autobahn and it employed a lot of guys that had no job skills except killing enemies.

So our highway system is designed to connect key military bases, ports, and railroad depots/spurs. OKC is geographically lined up with several in Texas north/south running up to the Dakotas including military assets in Western Kansas. It also provides a spoke interchange as well for the highway that parallels the train tracks running from the Port of Los Angeles. It also had one of the better airports in existence in 1952. So they got a lot of federal money we didn’t.

There was a lot of political skullduggery designed to limit the road development of Tulsa, and therefore the tax base, to favor personal political career arcs, but that’s not a message. That’s a conversation.

Hope this helps. I’m here to inform and entertain.
Yeah, I think some people don't think about federal goals and desires when the roads were built. Military bases, ports, and railroads were main drivers when the roads were constructed. And those were and are viable factors in the decisions about where they were constructed.
 
  • Like
Reactions: HuffyCane

HuffyCane

I.T.S. Hall of Famer
Gold Member
Dec 25, 2004
16,925
9,633
113
Yeah, I think some people don't think about federal goals and desires when the roads were built. Military bases, ports, and railroads were main drivers when the roads were constructed. And those were and are viable factors in the decisions about where they were constructed.
Yep, between that and the Little Dixie rural farmer New Deal Democrats in southeast Oklahoma that decided so many political contests, there wasn’t much political support for major road building into Tulsa. They wanted roads in the middle of nowhere built to get crops to market. They could care less whether Tulsa was economically competitive with OKC, Dallas and KC. It didn’t help that farmers around Tulsa felt the same way.
 

TU 1978

I.T.S. University President
Gold Member
Jan 30, 2009
10,495
3,797
113
I think it’s ironic that the Mother Road (US 66) was essentially turned into toll roads on both sides of Tulsa. Of course, both were supposed to be free after 20 years. We know how that turned out.
 
  • Like
Reactions: TU Sepp

old.guy

I.T.S. Senior
Gold Member
Mar 6, 2005
1,458
619
113
Here's a story I've heard from several sources over the years, including former Gov. George Nigh: In the mid-1940s a delegation of Tulsa and Oklahoma City business and political leaders met with Gov. Roy J. Turner to plead for construction of a modern, direct highway between the two cities.

At the time, Tulsa County was one of a handful of Republican "strongholds" in the Democrat-controlled state, along with Washington and Garfield counties. These "strongholds" often, but not always, voted Republican in federal and state elections and elected a few Republican legislators.

Turner was brutally frank with the delegation; Tulsa did not support him in the governor's race so he was not about to send any tax money to Tulsa for a road or any other purpose. However, he told the Tulsa-OKC group that if they really wanted a new road he would help persuade the Legislature to create a vehicle through which a state agency, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, would issue revenue bonds to be retired by tolls paid by users of the new highway. From that point forward Tulsans would pay tolls to build and maintain major roads into their city, while continuing to pay taxes to build and maintain "free" roads in the rest of the state.

Turner became known as the father of the Oklahoma turnpike system, and the state's first turnpike, between Tulsa and OKC, is named for him.

By the way, "free road" is a misnomer. There is no such thing as a free road. There are taxpayer-financed roads and user-financed (toll) roads.
 

TU Sepp

I.T.S. Athletic Director
Feb 8, 2004
8,293
928
113
I-35 from OKC to Wichita may have something to do with McConnell Air Force Base...
 

HuffyCane

I.T.S. Hall of Famer
Gold Member
Dec 25, 2004
16,925
9,633
113
I-35 from OKC to Wichita may have something to do with McConnell Air Force Base...
Schilling AFB’s 12 Atlas F ICBM facilities in Central Kansas just west of Salina on right off I-35 was what I was thinking, but you’ve got a great point.
 

JesseTU

I.T.S. Head Coach
Gold Member
Jan 9, 2007
7,352
1,497
113
The Interstate Highway system wasn’t created for you and I to drive on it. Eisenhower, due to his frustrating experience as a young officer moving equipment cross country, built the system to move tanks across great distances if we were invaded. When we aren’t being invaded, you are allowed to drive on them.
Defense was certainly a consideration, but not the primary consideration. Militaries can move just fine on rail, and largely did and often do. The US military strength has always been premised on a strong economy, which happens to be where the interstate really shines. But the military first myth is common enough that the DOT specifically addresses it on its myths page.

"The primary justifications for the Interstate System were civilian in nature. In the midst of the Cold War, the Department of Defense supported the Interstate System and Congress added the words “and Defense” to its official name in 1956 (“National System of Interstate and Defense Highways”). However, the program was so popular for its civilian benefits that the legislation would have passed even if defense had not been a factor. "

and

"President Eisenhower’s support was based largely on civilian needs—support for economic development, improved highway safety, and congestion relief, as well as reduction of motor vehicle-related lawsuits."

and in case anyone was wondering, the interstate-runway requirement is also a myth:

"This myth is widespread on the Internet and in reference sources, but has no basis in law, regulation, design manual—or fact. Airplanes occasionally land on Interstates when no alternative is available in an emergency, not because the Interstates are designed for that purpose."

 
Last edited:

HuffyCane

I.T.S. Hall of Famer
Gold Member
Dec 25, 2004
16,925
9,633
113
Defense was certainly a consideration, but not the primary consideration. Militaries can move just fine on rail, and largely did and often do. The US military strength has always been premised on a strong economy, which happens to be where the interstate really shines. But the military first myth is common enough that the DOT specifically addresses it on its myths page.

"The primary justifications for the Interstate System were civilian in nature. In the midst of the Cold War, the Department of Defense supported the Interstate System and Congress added the words “and Defense” to its official name in 1956 (“National System of Interstate and Defense Highways”). However, the program was so popular for its civilian benefits that the legislation would have passed even if defense had not been a factor. "

and

"President Eisenhower’s support was based largely on civilian needs—support for economic development, improved highway safety, and congestion relief, as well as reduction of motor vehicle-related lawsuits."

and in case anyone was wondering, the interstate-runway requirement is also a myth:

"This myth is widespread on the Internet and in reference sources, but has no basis in law, regulation, design manual—or fact. Airplanes occasionally land on Interstates when no alternative is available in an emergency, not because the Interstates are designed for that purpose."

This my friend is the fine art of political log rolling. When tax receipts are low, people go after the defense budget, especially right after a major war as the military is drawing down and people are wondering out loud just what the heck we were doing in Korea. You've got to sell the project as having a civilian benefit to bring people behind it in Congress who are at risk of losing their seat in areas of the country with a depressed economy. And you've got to fund maintenance during times when it seems pretty unlikely we are going to be invaded. After all, all of those road builders and their workers give money and vote too. This is how and why you get aircraft manufactured in 120 different congressional districts and guys on the History Channel talking about all the stuff NASA had to get invented by for profit corporations to go to the moon that we use everyday. So sure, on paper, the argument is they are really trying to build something that everyone wants and can get value from. Sure helps on election day to tell people you built a road or a bridge that will cut in half the commute times of voters or that they lead to a better school away from children you dont want your kids going to school with. But the reality is, at the end of the day, if you pressed pause on the DVR in 1953 when these decisions were made, we made strategic decisions from an existential perspective. We didn't do anything that wasn't designed to compete in the Cold War and have a defense purpose if necessary. Today, the primary purpose of DOT is to collect tax revenue, keep some of it to perpetuate itself and those that lead it, then distribute to the various states to build and maintain roads. They tell you they do other things, but that's not what they really do. They aren't going to issue public statements that undercut that mission amongst people, then or now, that believe we spend too much on defense infrastructure, particularly 30 years after the Depression and everyone concerned the USA might lapse back into that. Yes, the sell was it was a massive public works project. And it had those benefits. And it was popular because returning GIs saw the autobahn and demanded similar. But that wasn't what they were really thinking or why we did it.

As for the defense application of the railroad network, we built it out in places that makes strategic sense, particularly in the defense industries sector. Rail makes a lot of sense moving coal to make steel to build vehicles and weapons. So we fund a lot of railroads that operate at a loss in the eastern seaboard for that purpose. Rail based troop movements make sense in densely packed countries like France and Germany. It would make no fiscal sense to try and build a rail network to get troops and equipment quickly to all of the places it would need to go to defend America at its borders or maintain a sustained conflict along lines within our borders.

The airplane thing is definitely a myth. We dont come close to properly funding airport infrastructure. We certainly aren't spending hundreds of billions on that. But they do use US 75 and 169 to line of sight navigate the approach to TUL lol.
 

TU 1978

I.T.S. University President
Gold Member
Jan 30, 2009
10,495
3,797
113
Also, the interstate system when originally conceived was intended to bypass the cities and therefore avoid much of the traffic. This is why I-44 was called the Skelly Bypass. In reality, Tulsa and many other cities grew towards and around interstates as businesses were developed near the higher traffic areas.

When I-244 (Crosstown and Red Fork expressways) was designed and built, hundreds of homeowners were displaced and homes destroyed in the process under the guise of ‘urban renewal’, yet the amount and type of businesses near I-244 is much different than that of I-44. The path of 244 on the northern portion of the IDL cut through much of what was left of the original Greenwood.

Also, if you’ve driven the eastern or southern legs of the IDL, you’ve driven one of the nation’s few unsigned interstates, I-444.
 
  • Like
Reactions: HuffyCane

Gold*

Serious Cat Circle of Honor
Gold Member
Dec 3, 2003
35,484
10,591
113
I heard they ran out of money on the 75/44 project, that very little is getting done anytime soon, and they are waiting until after the election to announce it.

I would love to sue ODOT. It is far and away an awful entity that holds this state back. At times I think they organize projects to intentionally disrupt the lives of people in Tulsa, like when they had 75 down to one lane in the middle of the Gathering Place/ Riverside fiasco.
 
  • Like
Reactions: HuffyCane

Latest posts