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Interstate 45 - Texas

IH-45 is Texas' oldest freeway, and a vital link between the two largest cities in the state. On September 30, 1948, the first section of the first freeway in Texas was opened south of Houston. IH-45 was completed in 1975 when the last link between IH-30 and IH-20 in downtown Dallas was opened, marking IH-45 as the first completed freeway in Texas.

Beginning on the island of Galveston, IH-45 quickly leaves the island on the Galveston causeway, passing through Texas City and La Marque before reaching League City, where IH-45 enters the Houston Metropolitan area. IH-45 continues northeast as the Gulf Freeway, tracking past NASA's Johnson Space Center and Ellington Field before entering Houston. As IH-45 continues towards downtown, it passes Hobby Airport and reaches Loop 610. Crossing US 59, IH-45 skirts the west side of Houston on an impressive elevated structure. Crossing IH-10, IH-45 trends northwest away from Downtown as the North Freeway.

Outside Loop 610, IH-45 travels as the North Freeway, a poster child of freeway development in Texas with commercial buildings clustered against the narrow right-of-way. IH-45 is only saved from total gridlock by the parallel Hardy Toll Road, opened in 1983. North of Beltway 8, IH-45 widens to ten lanes, which it will retain through Spring and into The Woodlands.

The Woodlands are Houston's most successful suburb, where land values have stayed high despite the oldest parts being thirty years old. The Hardy Toll Road meets IH-45 here, and the freeway continues north to Conroe, the county seat of Montgomery County. IH-45 leaves the greater Houston area to commence almost 200 miles of rural Interstate.

The Piney Woods of East Texas are in full display as we roll through Sam Houston National Forest. Huntsville, just north of the forest, was the home of Sam Houston, who is memorialized with a 67 foot statue facing IH-45. Huntsville is also home to Sam Houston State University and the center of the Texas prison industry.

As we continue north, Madisonville marks where the Piney Woods give way to oak trees as the climate gets drier. The trees will get fewer and fewer as the road continues north, and they will be completely gone by the time IH-45 reaches Corsicana. The original 1960 freeway is in the process of being reconstructed from Streetman north to Richland to account for higher traffic volumes and modern standards. North of Corsicana, one of the few things of note is a large adult bookstore north of Rice.

Interstate 45 leads away from the north end of Business Loop I-45 outside Corsicana to span Old Channel and Chambers Creek. This portion of IH 45 replaced both U.S. 75 & 287. Photo taken October 21, 2003.

Ennis is an old railroad town that has been well preserved, despite the close proximity to Dallas. IH-45 comes in through the southeast corner of Dallas, which is sparsely populated. Until the road reaches IH-20, very few signs of Dallas can be found along the road, which was reconstructed in the late 1990s. Traffic is still relatively light compared to other Metroplex freeways until after crossing the Trinity River, north of Loop 12. At this point, an impressive view of the Dallas skyline comes into view.

IH-45 ends at IH-30 in downtown Dallas. The freeway continues north, first as unsigned IH-345 then as US 75. Unsigned IH-345 continues the exit numbering scheme from IH-45 for it's short 1.4 mile jaunt to Spur 366 and US 75.

There are four Business loops along IH-45 (all former US 75):

IH-45 replaced US 75 from Galveston to Dallas. The last remaining section of US 75 was between Fairfield and Streetman, and had become quite dangerous by the time of replacement in 1971.

Construction timeline for IH-45*

  • 1948: The Gulf Freeway opens from Scott Street in downtown Houston to Telephone Road.
  • 1951: Freeway extended south from Telephone Road to present-day South Loop 610 in Houston.
  • 1952: Gulf "Freeway" extended south to Galveston. However, the freeway name is a misnomer as only the first 8.5 miles from downtown south are limited access - the rest of the road has at-grade crossings.
  • 1955: West side of downtown Houston from Allen Parkway to Pierce St opened.
  • 1959: IH-45 corridor established. Huntsville loop bypass open. From South Loop 610 to Alameda Mall in Houston, expressway upgraded to freeway. Crosstimbers Road to Parker Road opened in Houston.
  • 1960: Hardy Toll Road to Conroe opened. Streetman to Corsicana and Corsicana to IH-20 opened (Corsicana bypass not yet complete).
  • 1961: North Loop 610 to Crosstimbers Road open in Houston. Beltway 8 to FM 1960 open north of Houston. Conroe to Huntsville opened.
  • 1962: From Pierce St in downtown Houston north to North Loop 610 opened.
  • 1963: Crosstimbers Road to Beltway 9 open in Houston. FM 1960 to Hardy Toll Road opened
  • 1964: Galveston Causeway reconstruction completed. The new causeway consists of dual three lane bridges. Expressway upgraded from Fuqua Street to FM 1959 in Houston.
  • 1965: Freeway extended north from Huntsville to Madisonville.
  • 1967: Pierce Elevated between Pierce St and Scott Street opened in Houston, completing the link downtown. Freeway opened from Madisonville to Centerville.
  • 1969: Centerville to Buffalo opened.
  • 1970: Expressway upgraded from FM 1959 to NASA Route 1.
  • 1971: Buffalo to Fairfield opened.
  • October 13, 1971: Fairfield to Streetman opened. This is the last link of freeway between downtown Houston and IH-20 to open.
  • 1975: Freeway completed from IH-20 to downtown Dallas.
  • 1976: Upgrade NASA Route 1-FM 1764. Freeway complete from downtown Houston to Galveston and completed in Texas.

During the 1980's, IH-45 was reconstructed from South Loop 610 to North Beltway 8. During the 1990's, IH-45 was upgraded from South Loop 610 to FM 1959 and Beltway 8 to the Woodlands, as well as from Ennis north to IH-20.

Current projects include the upgrades near Streetman as well as reconstruction of the Galveston Causeway.

*Slotbloom, 2003, "Houston Freeways", p. 118-128 (downtown Houston), p.144-162 (Gulf Freeway), p. 217-225 (North Freeway).

Photographs of IH-45

Page Updated June 17, 2005.