Oklahoma Road Network

By | October 13, 2022

Oklahoma has a dense road network because almost the entire state is heavily cultivated. The Oklahoma Panhandle has a somewhat thinner road network, but there are also plenty of roads available here.

Road management

The road authority is the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, abbreviated ODOT. It is not the only state that uses this abbreviation, Ohio and Oregon also use this abbreviation, but they are far from Oklahoma so that there is no confusion. ODOT manages 19,732 kilometers of road, including more than 6,800 bridges. ODOT’s predecessor was the Department of Highways, which was established in 1911, just four years after Oklahoma became a state. In 1924, the first 29 state highways were numbered. In 1926, the state had 1,020 kilometers of paved road. In 1976 the name was changed to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

  • Bittranslators: State overview of Oklahoma, including geography, economy, population and history as well as introduction to major cities of Oklahoma.

Bridge renovation and replacement

In 2016, of the 6,800 bridges, a total of 1,004 were older than 80 years. Oklahoma has long been at the bottom of the list of bad bridge states, but since 2006 major investments have been made to replace and modernize the bridges. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of bridges rated ‘structurally deficient’ decreased by about 70%. Bad bridges are mainly located in the east and center of the state, with a large concentration in Tulsa. Between 2006 and 2015, 1,072 bridges were replaced or renovated, and between 2016 and 2023, a further 913 bridges will be upgraded. In 2017, Oklahoma still had the third largest amount of bridges in poor condition in the United States, but the number is declining quite rapidly.

  • Deluxesurveillance: Nickname of Oklahoma as The Sooner State. Also covers geography, history, economy, politics and administration of the state.

Earthquakes

Oklahoma has frequent earthquakes with magnitudes up to 5.0. The state was known for a long time for the large number of bridges in poor condition. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of bad bridges was reduced from 1,168 to 370. After earthquakes, all bridges around the epicenter are inspected. For the time being, the impact of earthquakes on the condition of the bridges is negligible.

Interstate Highways

Oklahoma highway network with toll roads in green.

Three main Interstate Highway routes pass through Oklahoma, Interstate 35 as a north-south route through the center of the state, Interstate 40 as an east-west route through the center, and Interstate 44 as a diagonal route. All of these highways converge in Oklahoma City, making it one of the largest highway interchanges on the Great Plains. Portions of I-44 are a toll road.

In addition, there are some auxiliary routes, Interstate 235 as a north-south route in Oklahoma City, Interstate 240 as a southern bypass of Oklahoma City, and Interstate 244 as an alternate route through Tulsa. Interstate 444 forms an unsigned freeway along downtown Tulsa.

In addition to the system of Interstate Highways, Oklahoma also has a relatively large number of freeways that are not Interstate Highways. Only the northwest of the state and the Oklahoma Panhandle are not served by freeways.

US Highways

A large number of US Highways cross Oklahoma. The state’s central location means that many US Highways run through Oklahoma. Some of these have been partially developed as freeways. US 64 forms an east-west route of almost 1,000 kilometers and, together with US 412, is an important corridor through the Oklahoma Panhandle. US 69 is largely a freeway or 2×2 divided highway, from the Texas border via Durant, McAlester and Muskogee to Vinita through the eastern part of the state. In Tulsa, US 75 has been developed as a freeway. The US 70 forms a nearly 500-mile east-west route through the south of the state, and is largely a two-lane road, except for the Hugo bypass which is a freeway. US 169 is a major freeway in Tulsa. Most other US Highways are somewhat secondary in character, partly because they sometimes run parallel to an Interstate Highway for a short distance. Historically, these were Oklahoma’s major US Highways, but lost their importance after I-35, I-40, and I-44 were completed. US 287 runs only briefly through the Oklahoma Panhandle, but is an important through-connection between Texas and Colorado.

State Highways

State highways mainly have a secondary character and mainly open up rural areas, although some state highways in Oklahoma City and Tulsa have been developed as freeways. In 2006 the road number shield was changed from a white circle in a black square to a white shield with a black frame in the shape of the state containing the number. State highways in most cases do not have a number that corresponds to Interstate Highways or US Highways with the same number. Many state highways also have a spur connecting villages just off the main route to the road network. The numbering of state highways is sometimes adapted to the number of the neighboring state. The current road numbering was introduced in 1924, but has since been adapted several times. Numerous routes have been scrapped in the past, although there have been no state-wide renumberings.

It is policy to provide two-lane roads with paved emergency lanes. In 2016, 7,400 kilometers of state highway still had two lanes but no emergency lanes. For road safety reasons, the total road profile is widened so that there is more room to correct steering errors and to stop next to the lane. Due to the rolling landscape, there are sometimes quite steep slopes with little visibility, which is a safety risk.

Toll roads

A speed limit of 80 mph (130 km/h) on the Kickapoo Turnpike.

There are many toll roads in Oklahoma called turnpikes. The oldest of these are the Turner Turnpike and the Will Rogers Turnpike, which opened in 1953 and 1957, respectively, and predate the Interstate Highway system. In 1964 the HE Bailey Turnpike opened to traffic, followed in 1969 by the Muskogee Turnpike. The Indian Nation Turnpike was opened in two phases in 1966 and 1970, followed by the Cimarron Turnpike in 1975. In 2001/2002, the Creek Turnpike and John Kilpatrick Turnpike around Tulsa and Oklahoma City respectively opened. Oklahoma is one of the states with the most toll roads, although only three of them are part of the same Interstate, Interstate 44.

More toll roads used to be planned, for example, Interstate 35 was planned as a toll road from Oklahoma City to the Kansas border, where it was to connect to the Kansas Turnpike. Before it started construction, the Interstate Highway system was created, after which the connection could be constructed toll-free over the already reserved route. I-35 south of Oklahoma City was also originally planned as a toll road, but construction was even less concrete at the time, and also opened later. The Chickasaw Turnpike was planned in the 1950’s as an intersection between I-35 at Davis and I-40 at Henryetta, but was eventually built on a limited basis and two-lane.

History

Oklahoma became a state in 1907, and in 1911 the State Highway Commission was established, tasked with developing the state’s highway network. In 1925 Oklahoma had only 600 kilometers of tarmac road, and there was not yet a network of tarred roads outside the state. In particular, the highways from Oklahoma City and Tulsa were asphalted up to about 40 kilometers outside the city, but beyond that there were mainly dirt roads. Even gravel roads were relatively rare, with the greatest concentration around Muskogee and parallel to the Texas border in southern Oklahoma. West of the Oklahoma City region were almost all dirt roads.

In the second half of the 1920s, the paved road network tripled to 1,800 kilometers in 1929. The first longer corridors to be paved ran from Oklahoma City and Tulsa north to the Kansas border. In 1929 there was no through paved road between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The first phase of modernization of the road network almost completely bypassed the western half of the state. West of US 81 there was not a single asphalt road in 1929.

During the 1930s, the paved highway network in eastern and central Oklahoma was greatly expanded, by 1939 nearly all roads of any through importance in the eastern half of the state were paved. In the west of the state, US 66 from the Texas border to Oklahoma was the only road with a full asphalt pavement, although in the west several US Highways had been upgraded to a gravel road with a thin oil layer so that they were free of dust. However, even in 1939, several US Highways in the west of the state were still covered with gravel.

The first plans for a highway network in Oklahoma date back to 1947, when the first turnpikes were approved. Construction began in about 1950, and in 1953 Oklahoma’s first highway, the Turner Turnpike, between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, was opened. Five toll roads were planned in the 1950s, in addition to the Turner Turnpike, the Will Rogers Turnpike from Tulsa to Missouri, the HE Bailey Turnpike to Wichita Falls, and a north-south toll road to connect to the Kansas Turnpike and run south to the border. with Texas. This last toll road was divided into a part north of Oklahoma City, for which plans were very concrete in the early to mid-1950s, but did not go into construction until the Interstate Highway system was created that would allow federal funding for toll-free highways. The Will Rogers Turnpike in northeastern Oklahoma was still built as a toll road. I-35 north of Oklahoma City was built fairly quickly in the late 1950s and early 1960s. South of Oklahoma City, construction did not go well, and was delayed until the 1970s.

The first sections of I-40 also opened in the early 1960s, mainly east of Oklahoma City. In 1964, the HE Bailey Turnpike was opened from Oklahoma City through Lawton to Wichita Falls, Texas, providing a through highway for a significant distance. The three toll roads from Texas to Missouri then became part of Interstate 44. In 1970, there were still a few missing links, most notably on I-35 south of Oklahoma City, and I-40 both east and west of Oklahoma City. In 1974, the section east of the city was completed to the border with Arkansas, in 1976 the last link opened at the Texas border. In 1971, I-35 south of Oklahoma City was completed, and in 1977, I-44 on a new route through Oklahoma City was completed.

After that, highway construction in Oklahoma was more or less permanently at a standstill, with only the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metropolitan areas still being built, though not as ambitious as planned in the 1970s. During the 1980s and 1990s, the state of Oklahoma did not benefit from the rapid population growth in Texas, which resulted in most highway plans being scrapped, most prominently the Chickasaw Turnpike and additional ring structures around Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Also in Oklahoma there was a regular lack of structural maintenance, quite a lot of highways were made of concrete and in poor condition. In addition, Oklahoma has had largest number of works of art (large and small) that are structurally worn. However, since 2005, the road network has been modernized at a fairly rapid pace.

In 2015, the “Driving Forward” program was presented, which foresees $892 million in planned investment in Oklahoma’s turnpikes. The largest of these is the construction of the Eastern Oklahoma County Turnpike near Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma Road Network