History of Texas interstate highways Disclaimer: this page is in no way part of or represents the opinion of the Texas Department of Transportation. It is strictly for entertainment and none of my comments should be used as facts.
Coming soon - photos of abandoned highways and construction of U.S. 287 in Wichita Falls.
The Texas road maps of the late 1950s and very early 1960s do not reveal a whole lot about the earliest sections of interstate highway in Texas. In fact, the interstate shields on maps don't show up until about 1959 or 1960. The way the roads were shown on the maps led to some confusion as well. Many of the early highway maps mistakenly used the same symbol for a four-lane divided highway and a freeway. The map showed this as a "dual" highway. In reality, some roads were far from being freeways. They had plenty of traffic lights, intersections and crossovers. A good example of early maps being wrong is the Gulf Freeway between Houston and Galveston. Shown as a "freeway" on maps, it was not controlled access until the late 1970s when all the crossovers were removed. So when viewing old maps (late 50s, early 60s especially) beware of "freeways" that are actually "highways."
Another curiousity is that map makers would put the "completed" interstate shield on maps for roads that were divided highways with crossovers and no overpasses.
This web site page will try to trace how the sections of interstate highway opened in Texas through maps and from the help of others.
According to the San Antonio Freeways web site, the first section of interstate highway to open was in Navarro County, near Corsicana. I believe this was the first constructed section after the Eisenhower Interstate Act of 1956. Other sections, such as the Gulf Freeway near Houston, simply tagged existing freeways as interstates. The same thing took place in other states, some even used existing turnpikes and tollways.
Interstate 10 crosses the entire state of Texas from El Paso in the west to Orange in the East. However, it was not completed for the entire way until well into the 1990s. In fact, very little of Interstate 10 between El Paso and San Antonio was even under construction until the 1970s.
As far as I can tell, from old maps, the earliest sections of Interstate 10 to be completed were a small portion near El Paso, a couple of sections in San Antonio, the bypass around Columbus (opened about 1963) and the part originally called SH 73 from Houston to Winnie. The Columbus bypass is shown under construction on a 1962 map.
Interstate 10 was built a piece at a time, moving westward from the West Loop Interstate 610. Part of the interchange at the West Loop was completed in about 1963 (Since 10 stopped at 610, some of the ramps were not yet in place. I also remember 10 coming to an abrupt halt and then becoming a tiny road curving around to Old Katy Road. Traces of this road are still visible, but most of it is gone.) Interstate 10 followed the route of US 90, which itself had replaced Old Katy Road. Short sections opened from 1963 (stopped about Campbell Road) to the west, a little at a time. I think sections were completed to Bunker Hill, then Gessner, then to Addicks. An important stretch and a long one, opened in 1967, all the way out to Weimar. Then in 1968, the freeway was completed to Schulenberg. Over the next few years, sections opened to Engle, Flatonia and Waelder. At the same time, 10 was moving east from San Antonio. The Seguin bypass was the first completed (1967) and then construction began toward Luling. During 1972, San Antonio and Houston were finally linked by a complete freeway.
When the section of Interstate 10 between Houston and San Antonio was fully complete,, you could then take IH 10 all the way from Lafayette, Louisiana to San Antonio, Texas. The reason for that was that Interstate 10 had been completed all through Houston. The part from the West Loop to downtown opened in 1968, while the part from the East Loop to downtown opened in 1966 (or possibly late 1965). The short and final downtown section was a difficult part just north of downtown. Part of this section includes an usual merge with Interstate 45, and this section was completed in 1972.
IH 10 took much longer to complete between San Antonio and El Paso. In fact, for many years, very little of Interstate 10 existed between San Antonio and El Paso. Maps didn't even show the proposed routes for awhile. In fact, they didn't show anything. Between Van Horn and San Antonio there wasn't even any IH 10 shields on the map. Part of the difficulty in completing that section was the wide open rural areas and lack of large towns, not to mention the vast mileage. Part of that area is hilly, far west is mountains and other parts are miles of open prairies and grasslands.
The first parts completed were in the far west up near Van Horn and on to El Paso. During the late 1970s, the 1980s and the early 1990s, the remaining sections were built. Quite a few short sections were completed at various times. The first of these sections were two stretches near Balmorhea, the part between Ozona and Sonora, and from San Antonio to Junction and then on to Kerrville. The last section of Interstate 10 to open in Texas was the bypass around Fort Stockton.
Interstate 20 runs from a junction with IH 10 in West Texas to the Louisiana border near Marshall, Texas and Shreveport, Louisiana.
Parts of Interstate 20 were some of the first interstate freeway built in Texas. Others were some of the more recent sections, such as IH 20 between Fort Worth and Dallas. The earliest sections to open included parts near Abilene, Texas and from Dallas east to Louisiana.
Interstate 27 currently runs between Amarillo and Lubbock. It did not appear on maps until the early 1970s (or possibly the late 60s). I think portions of this interstate were upgraded to interstate quality from existing divided highway. For a few years, maps showed interstate highway in sections interspersed with divided highway.
Other highway web sites discuss various plans to extend IH 27 north of Amarillo and/or to extend it south of Lubbock. Three highways south of Lubbock are divided highway for the most part and some include a few sections of controlled access freeway. Most of these are divided highways with 70 mph speed limits. Except for crossovers, it doesn't differ too much from driving on an interstate highway. However, there are no plans for interstates at present as far as I know.
The former Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike now carries the IH 30 designation. Before IH 20 was built south of Fort Worth and Dallas, the turnpike was a tollway, IH 30 stopped in downtown Dallas and IH 20 also stopped in downtown Dallas, as well as downtown Fort Worth. It appeared that the turnpike was part of IH 20 when it actually was not. However, you could drive the turnpike to connect the ends of IH 20. When the southern part of IH 20 opened, the turnpike became IH 30 and the tolls were dropped. I'm not sure if the toll booths are still where they were, they may have been taken down - maybe a reader can help.
IH 30 now runs through Dallas and along what was the turnpike, and connects to IH 20 in Fort Worth. The former IH 20 in Fort Worth became IH 30.
If you drive IH 30 between Dallas and Greenville, you will cross a long bridge over a lake and will see some nice scenery.
Interstate 35 is the longest north-south interstate route in Texas. It runs from the Oklahoma border at the Red River down to Laredo. Some of the larger towns on IH 35 are Waco, Austin and San Antonio. IH 35 is split into 35-E and 35W for Fort Worth and Dallas.
Some of the earliest segments of IH 35 built were near Austin, in and near San Antonio, near San Marcos and New Braunfels, north of Denton to the Red River, and between West and Hillsboro. Later segments included sections between San Antonio and Laredo, the part between Temple and Belton and a part in Waco. I remember watching the construction on the Waco section - it was completed around 1973 or 1974.
I do have one question about IH 35 that a reader may be able to answer. In early 1979, I traveled the section between Laredo and San Antonio. Not too far north of Laredo, IH 35 went from being a controlled access freeway to only 1/2 a highway with crossovers. All maps showed IH 35 as a full freeway, however, I have to disagree. For quite a few miles there was no freeway. Two lanes appeared to be freeway lanes and the two lanes in the other direction were US 81, I think. Has this section been upgraded? If anyone has information, please send me an e-mail message.
Interstate 35-E runs through Dallas. Parts of this interstate were completed in the 60s.
Interstate 35-W is the western split of I-35 and it goes through Fort Worth. It was completed in various sections.
Interstate 37 runs from San Antonio down to Corpus Christi. If my maps are correct, then the first section completed was a very short section of freeway in Corpus Christi in the early 1960s.
Construction on IH 37 took place during the late 1960s and through the 1970s and early 1980s. The first sections to open were south of IH 10 in San Antonio to just south of IH 410, and a few miles north from Corpus Christi. If I remember right, part of IH 35 was under construction next to the Hemisfair in 1968.
I was in Olmos Park in San Antonio in 1973 and remember seeing an elevated section of IH 35 under construction at that time.
The last part of IH 37 to be completed was a gap that connected the north and south parts that were already open.
This interstate highway goes across the Texas Panhandle and through the city of Amarillo
This was one of the later designated interstates in Texas. I think it originally stopped in Oklahoma, but now it ends in Wichita Falls. I wonder if it will be extended to Fort Worth. Part of this freeway is under construction in downtown Wichita Falls.
Interstate 45 is one of the busiest freeways in the state of Texas, carrying traffic between Houston and Dallas. However, it is much safer than when the drive between Houston and Dallas was the two-lane winding road U.S. 75.
The earliest part of Interstate 45 didn't even "technically" have to be built. The U.S. 75 Gulf Freeway in Houston, started in 1948, "became" designated as IH 45. The Gulf Freeway, from Houston to Galveston, was a freeway in Houston for a few miles in the early days, but actually a divided highway for most of the way. The highway was upgraded, by sections, to controlled access freeway from Houston to Galveston during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
I remember a time during the 1960s when there was a speedway between Houston and Galveston. The speed limit on U.S. 75 was 70 mph and this was a section with crossovers and very few overpasses. You had to get into a left turn lane and go across 70 mph oncoming traffic to get to the race track! Good thing the highway was eventually upgraded to freeway.
Other early sections of IH 45 included parts from the North Loop interchange in Houston up to Conroe, and from north of Corsicana up to south of Dallas.
In 1963, the North Freeway was opened from IH 610 North in Houston down to downtown. An elevated section in downtown Houston opened about 1966 or 1967. Before that section linked the completed sections of IH 45, you had to go through quite a few traffic signals in downtown.
During the 1960s, other sections of IH 45 to open were from Conroe to Madisonville, a loop around Corsicana, and from Madisonville to Centerville. The early 1970s saw the completion of the part from Centerville to Buffalo.
One of the last sections of IH 45 to open was in Dallas, connecting the Central Expressway and "hidden" 345 downtown down to the junction with IH 20 (formerly IH 635 but designated IH 20 when it was completed to Fort Worth). I guess that part of the delay in this section was a complicated stretch involving a bridge over the Trinity River.
Another of the last sections of IH 45 to open was between Buffalo and Richland, near Fairfield. This section opened between 1972 and 1974 or so. This section includes a part where the main lanes are separated by trees in the center median (there is also a section like this near Lake Conroe).
This is one of two "secret" interstates in Texas. This is marked on maps from the 1970s, but I'm not sure why it isn't marked anymore. Interstate 110 runs from IH 10 to the north in El Paso.
This is the other "secret" interstate in Texas. Again, I'm not sure why it's called a "secret" interstate. This is a connecting freeway in Dallas between the ends of U.S. 75 and IH 45. I didn't see any IH 345 signs when I drove this freeway in the summer of 1997. If anyone knows why this section is not marked, let me know.
The best source of information on this loop interstate is on the San Antonio highways page. Click here for more information about IH 410.
A loop around Houston was proposed at least as early as 1955 as shown on a city map. There was a Loop 137 designation at that time, but 137 never actually became a full loop (in fact, it was more like a spur than a loop).
Although a section of the Houston loop is shown open in 1963, there is no 610 shield on the map anywhere. It is possible that the 610 signs were not erected until the North Loop and West Loop opened approximately late 1963 or early 1964. If anyone has the date that IH 610 markers first appeared on the freeway, please e-mail me. I have a lot more information about this interstate, since I was born and raised in Houston. For detailed information about IH 610, click here.
The LBJ freeway. A short section opened in 1967 from IH 35 E to a mile or two east. Then additional sections opened around Dallas. When a new part of IH 20 opened, part of 635 changed its designation to IH 20. There are signs on the freeway that say 635 ends.
There is a partial loop freeway in Fort Worth shown on a 1963 map. It is not designated as IH 820, but as a State Highway on that map. Part of this freeway would later become part of IH 820. Then, part of IH 820 would become IH 20.
There is a radio station at 820 AM in Fort Worth - WBAP, which can be heard across the country at night. I wonder if it has anything to do with the loop being designated IH-820.
The last section of this interstate to open included the bridge over Lake Worth. I don't think this section may have opened until the late 1980s or so.