The Kansas Turnpike was born April 7, 1953, the effective date of the Kansas Turnpike Act. Within two weeks the authority held its first organizational meeting and outlined the general route of the innovative super highway. The year that followed was taken up in acquisition of engineers, bond counsels, writing feasibility studies, selection of bond issue managers, court cases, and bond sales. On December 24, 1954 the first bids were let and on the 31st an historic groundbreaking ceremony was held. By 1955 nearly $100 million in contracts had been awarded, and the entire 236 miles was placed under contract. The idea of the new highway was to build an ultra-modern express highway with private money, pay for it and maintain it through the tolls received from users, and ultimately turn the paid-out investment into the state road system. There would be no onerous burden to the general taxpayer. Those who used the road would pay for it. It was predicted that the pike would cut two and one half hours diving time between Kansas City and Wichita.
Constructing the Kansas Turnpike required purchasing the land and mineral rights (rather than just an easement as was the usual practice) from the farmers who owned land along the proposed routes. This process created some animosity among farmers but the land was acquired in a relatively short period of time. A concession to ranchers along the proposed route through the Flint Hills was the creation of "cattle crossings" either under or over the highway. Kansas also had to get used to paying a fee to drive on the road. This reluctance was countered by a speed limit of 80 miles per hour, found nowhere else in Kansas.
Touted as a "Dream Road" by reporters, they suggested, "All highways should be built like this one." You didn't have to slow down for business districts, didn't get tied up for that mile after mile slow down behind trucks, there were no intersections to bother with except for the 14 official interchanges, the sharpest curve was three and the steepest hill had only a 3 percent rise, the gradual slopes and curves, however, would prevent the monotony and highway hypnosis that many people had suffered from in the past. Even the innovative spherical topped water towers would serve as shining landmarks announcing the location of the strategically placed service areas. Thousands took advantage of the first day's "free ride." The Kansas Turnpike was supposed to connect to a comparable Oklahoma highway on the southern border of Kansas south of Wellington but the road "dead ended" in an Oklahoma field for a few years.
The Kansas Turnpike was built before the time of the interstate highway system as we know it today. However, KTA agreed to meet the standards of the interstate highway system so parallel free highways were not built. It remains an important construction and engineering feat for Kansas.
The Kansas Turnpike Authority celebrated it 50th anniversary in 2006 and produced an excellent History of the Kansas Turnpike that is available on its web site.
Entry: Kansas Turnpike
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: December 2004
Date Modified: July 2011
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.