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Eisenhower Highway/Interstate 70

Aerial views of Interstate in Shawnee County, 1956The Interstate System was created when the Federal-Aid Highway Act was signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on June 29, 1956. Kansas opened the first section of Interstate in the nation on I-70 just west of Topeka on November 14, 1956. The event marked the beginning of the largest public works project in modern U.S. history. The general route of I-70 was laid out during the early months after the Federal-Aid Highway Act was enacted in 1956. It incorporated a portion of the Kansas Turnpike from Kansas City to Topeka, which opened in October 1956.

When the entire 424-mile stretch of I-70 in Kansas was finished in June 1970, it was the longest continuous segment of Interstate highway to be completed by any state. At the time Kansas, Missouri, and Pennsylvania were the only states to have a multi-lane I-70 from border to border. It originally cost $155.6 million (an average of $420,000 per mile) to construct the 370 miles of I-70, not including the Kansas Turnpike portion. Portland cement concrete was used on I-70 from Salina east to Topeka and in Kansas City, and asphaltic concrete (asphalt) pavement was used from Salina west to the Colorado border.

The first section of the nation’s new Interstate Highway System was opened to traffic west of Topeka Wednesday, November 14, 1956. It was an eight-mile section of US-40 highway between Valencia and Maple Hill roads. Among those present for the dedication ceremonies were Governor Fred Hall, U.S. Senator Frank Carlson, Frank E. Harwi, Jr., highway director; state highway commissioners, other highway personnel, Portland Cement association representative, Koss Construction Compay (contracting firm) representative, officers of the Kansas Contractors Association, Junction City, and Topeka chambers of commerce and newsmen from the area. This section was another first because it was the first concrete highway to be completed in the nation under the new act.

The new roadway was a part of a planned 40,000-mile national system of Interstate and Defense Highways, described as the heavy-duty “highway network of the future.” The Highway Act of 1956, passed by Congress on June 29, authorized nearly $25 billion in federal funds for the construction of these Interstate highways over the next 13 years. The act called for the federal government to furnish 90 percent funds to the state’s 10 percent. Designed under standards adopted for the system, the Kansas concrete pavement was 24 feet wide and nine inches thick. The new section would eventually become part of a divided four-lane highway between Topeka and Junction City.

Today, there are a total of 874 miles of Interstate in Kansas (including the Kansas Turnpike).  The Kansas Department of Transportation compiles use statistics that provide the adjusted average daily traffic numbers.  The lowest numbers were for extreme western Kansas and averaged from 7,820 per day from the Kansas/Colorado state line.  In central Kansas between Junction City and Topeka, daily use ranged from 29,700 to 66,100.  The heaviest daily use averaged 72,800 in the Kansas City Metro area east of I-635. 

Portions from the Kansas Department of Transportation web site.

External Links:

Kansas Department of Transportation, The Kansas Interstate Story

U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, The Interstate System

Entry: Eisenhower Highway/Interstate 70

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: May 2011

Date Modified: February 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.