Missouri's Claim to Fame: Birthplace of the Nation’s Interstate System
Logic might tell you that construction of the nation’s interstate highway system began on either the east or west coast and meandered across the country.
But that’s not what happened back in 1956 after President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act. Instead, work began in America’s heartland – in Missouri and Kansas.
Missouri can stake several claims to having the nation’s first interstate highway. On Aug. 2, 1956, Missouri became the first state to award a contract with the new interstate construction funds, inking a deal for work on U.S. Route 66 – now Interstate 44 – in Laclede County. As soon as the contract was signed, S. W. O’Brien, district engineer for the Bureau of Public Roads, called his headquarters in Washington, D.C., and confirmed that the contract was the nation’s first.
Also that day, Missouri awarded a contract for work on U.S. 40 – now I-70, the Mark Twain Expressway – in St. Charles County. Construction began on Aug. 13, another first for the Show-Me State.
In November of 1956, Kansas completed paving a section of U.S. 40/I-70 west of Topeka (a project that was actually under way prior to the passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act) that cemented its claim to the first interstate highway project.
Over the next nine years, I-70 was completed across Missouri with the final sections finished in Jackson and Lafayette counties in August 1965. Designed to have a life of 20 years, the oldest section of Missouri’s 251-mile I-70 is nearly 50 years old, while the newest section is approaching its 41st birthday.
This map from 1957 shows where Missouri's interstates were to be built. Missouri officials knew exactly where the interstates would go, and the state did not stray from its original plans.
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