Experience A Drive On Oklahoma’s Lawless Autobahn Highway
There is a running joke that Oklahoma drivers take things a little on the slow side. While it may be true in most parts of the state, there is one stretch of highway that far exceeds any idea of safe or responsible travel. It is considered Oklahoma's lawless Autobahn highway.
If you're from the Lawton area, you probably clicked on this already assuming that I'm talking about the stretch of US-62/Rogers Lane that runs between Fort Sill and Lawton. It's a tough transition to go from a 75MPH turnpike onto a 50MPH semi-smooth bleak continuation of the highway, but the "Rogerbahn" as everyone calls it isn't the Oklahoma Autobahn...
Sure, traffic does flow at high speeds on Rogers Lane at times, and the handful of bad accidents each year reminds us how dangerous it is, but there is another road that makes Rogers Lane seem like a leisurely cruise through Elmer Thomas Park. I'm talking about I-44 between OKC and Tulsa.
My family planned a trip to Florida for the week of Thanksgiving, and because I'm the only one that doesn't live in Northeast Oklahoma, I'm always forced to travel to them so we can all fly out of Tulsa. The turnpike from OKC to Tulsa is not for the faint of heart.
Look, kids, nothing!
On most long stretches of un-scenic highway across the state, traffic typically flows a little faster since there's nothing between point A and point B.
Examples: I-44 from Lawton to Wichita Falls. US-62 between Lawton and Altus. I-40 from Shawnee to Arkansas. US-270 between El Reno and Hooker... Absolutely nothing to look at. Just desolate blacktop and concrete surrounded by huge expanses of grass. I-44 between OKC and Tulsa is just the same, for the most part.
While there are a handful of exits on OK's Northeast I-44 corridor, the madness starts the moment you enter the turnpike at I-35 and it doesn't subside until you hit the I-244/Gilcrease Loop around Tulsa. Those 87-ish miles are a free-for-all.
The country drives through Oklahoma.
It was around twilight, almost dark when I hopped on I-44 out of OKC a few Fridays ago. I was instantly surrounded by traffic leaving OKC for the weekend and the hoard of truck-traffic moving goods all over the country. I don't think anyone realizes how much of America's stuff comes through the Sooner State.
If you haven't been on this stretch of road, the speed limit is 75MPH most of the way, but it varies greatly between 55MPH and 95MPH all at the same time. As there are only two lanes, you can imagine how the traffic backs up for a mile or two and then disappears completely in the next mile or two. It's really quite crazy to experience.
I ended up in the middle of a twelve-bus tour full of Canadians exploring the US. Massive seat-filled RVs swinging in and out of slow and fast traffic as if they were sports cars or crotch-rockets. Semi-trucks drive the same way.
Just about the time you turn on the cruise control, you're back on the brakes and starting to brace for the worst as the wolfpack of strangers you're traveling with pull up behind some yokel opting for a swift 58MPH and somehow passing someone driving even slower. Immediately as they get out of the way, traffic is back up to 95MPH again.
Duck... Duck... Duck... Duck... Goose!
For 87-ish miles of constant speed up/slow down bi-polar driving, not a single law enforcement officer to be found. Not a single blue or red light. Not even a single cruiser set off the highway as a speeding deterrent. Just hot nasty speed and dozens of close calls weaving in and out of slower drivers the entire way.
There is a small bit of reprieve near the halfway point, a McDonald's and a gas station that serves as a rest stop. Even if you're not hungry, it's a great place to take a breath and let the blood flow back into your knuckles before hopping back into the madness.
As you get closer to Tulsa, I-44 opens up into a six-lane highway. I'm fairly sure the speed limit increases to 80MPH here, but everyone cruises 55MPH to 95MPH as normal, but only in the fast and middle lanes for some unknown reason. The "slow" right-hand lane casually empty away from the dim LED streetlights.
The stench of survival.
It's not until you smell the sweet and pungent refinery that traffic begins to break off into separate directions. Some head East, others go downtown, and most continue up I-44 looking to make their way through Tulsa's lousy highway system of unreadable traffic signs and unrelenting construction detours.
While most people in Lawton will continue talking about how dangerous our local Rogerbahn is during the -cough-cough- "Lawton rush half-hour," I-44 will chug along being the scariest drive in the Sooner State.
If you know, you know. If you don't, plan a trip to experience it. It's exhilarating to conquer if you make it at all.