Missouri State Line east of Columbus (1941-1998)
Junction US 54-400 in Wichita (1998-)
Counties Passed through: Greeley, Wichita, Scott, Lane, Ness, Rush, Barton, Reno, Sedgwick, Butler, Greenwood, Wilson, Montgomery, Labette, Cherokee
Legend has it that the number for K-96 came from Wichita service station operator F.W. "Woody" Hockaday, who, out of his own pocket, placed signs marking the routes in Kansas, and other parts of the Southwest, with early versions of guide signs, with a big red "H" to plug his business. According to the legend, The Kansas-Colorado Boulevard had the most number of Hockaday's signs along the highway, so the state allowed him to choose the number. According to the legend, 96 was the phone number for his shop. However, that legend is apocryphal. By the time Kansas had established its state highway system, the surrounding states had already developed theirs. In particular, Colorado had numbered its portion of the Kansas-Colorado Boulevard as highway 96 as early as 1923. When Kansas established its highway system, highways that ended at the state line were given the same number as the adjoining state's highway. Thus, K-96 was numbered as an extension of Colorado 96. Also, a check of the Polk City directory for Wichita shows that the number for Hockaday's shop was 'Market 102.'
When the state highway system was established, K-96 was hard-surfaced from Ellinwood to Silica in Barton County, Sterling in Rice County to Hutchinson in Reno County, Maize in Sedgwick County (through Wichita) to Beaumont, and from Independence to the junction with K-16 in Montgomery County. Gravel segments were from Nekoma to Rush Center in Rush County, Great Bend to Ellinwood, New Albany to Independence, and from Altamount to the east end of the highway at US 66 west of Galena. In 1928, K-96 was graveled through Wichita and Scott Counties, from Andale to Maize in Sedgwick County, and from K-16 to Altamount. A segment that was also concurrent with US 50S east of Hutchinson was paved. In 1929, the segment from Andale west to the Reno-Sedgwick County line. 1930 saw the road graveled from Rush Center heading east, as well as on a short stretch heading south from US 50S east of Hutchinson and full paving completed from Lyons to Sterling. 1931 saw the road graveled in full from the Ness/Rush County line east to Great Bend. In 1932, K-96 was gravelled in Greeley County, and from Ness City east to the Ness/Rush County Line, and also hard-surfaced from Ness City west to the Lane/Ness County Line, from Altamont to Columbus, and from Crestline to US 66. 1933 saw the hard-surface segment in Ness County extended west to Dighton and east to Alexander. In addition, the gravel segment from K-16 to Altamont was hard-surfaced, as was the Great Bend-Lyons segment (which was concurrent with US 50N).
In 1936, The Highway Commission started making alignment changes to K-96. A new gravel alignment was built from Fall River straight east to K-39 north of Fredonia, bypassing New Albany. The roadway from Fall River west to K-11 near Severy was also graveled, along with the segment from US 50S to the Reno/Sedgwick County Line. The remainder of K-96 from Severy to Beaumont was graveled by 1937. Also in 1937, the segment from Alexander to Rush Center was hard-surfaced. In addition, the segment between Fredonia and the K-34 junction was paved, as was K-34 between K-96 and Neodesha. The paved K-34 was re-designated K-96, and the former K-96 (which had just been graveled in 1933) was re-designated as K-39.
In 1938, the segment from Selkirk to Leoti was hard-surfaced, as were the segment from the Wichita/Scott County line to Dighton, the segment from US 50S to Maize, and part of the segment from Columbus to Crestline. By 1940, K-96 was hard-surfaced in Greeley county, and the paving between Columbus and Crestline was completed. By 1941, the remainder of K-96 in Wichita County was hard-surfaced, the roadway from Rush Center to Shaffer was relocated a mile to the south (designated by resolution in 1936) as well as a new paved alignment from the K-39 junction south to Fredonia (Designated in 1937, alignment slightly modified in 1940). The paved segment of K-96 also extended west to Severy. Also, Kansas switched the designations of K-26 and K-96 east of Crestline, and Missouri likewise numbered their continuing roadway as their state highway 96.
In October of 1940, the highway commission authorized a relocation of K-96 between Shaffer and Great Bend. However, World War II suspended the project. The 1945 map shows the rest of the highway hard-surfaced. The relocation was completed by 1950. In December 1955, a relocation was authorized to eliminate a "stairstep" at the Colorado state line. 1957 saw apporvals to remove a stairstep on the Lane/Ness County line, as well as a alignment shift in Wichita due to construction of the Wichita-Valley Center "Big Ditch" Floodway. In November 1958, work was approved to relocate the highway between Yaggy and Nickerson. These projects were completed by 1960.
In 1953, Colorado and Kansas Petitioned AASHO to give their multi-state highway 96 a U.S. Highway designation. Although I do not have any information on the disposition of this request, obviously, highway 96 remained a state numbered highway.
The 1960s brought change to K-96 between Wichita and Hutchinson. The first section to begin was the section between K-17 south of Hutchinson and the town of Haven. The segment from Haven to Mount Hope quickly followed, and the entire segment was completed by 1962. The next part of the road, from Mount Hope to Wichita, was started in 1965 and finished by 1969. When the new alignment was opened, the old highway between Mount Hope and Maize was re-designated as K-296. Meanwhile, in Labette County, a segment near Mound Valley was bypassed to the south. Construction began in 1966 and was finished by 1967.
In 1970, a proposal was presented for a new northeast freeway in Wichita connecting US 54 to K-254. The Highway Commission approved a resolution designating the new roadway as K-96. At the same time, a new alignment from I-235to Maize was under consideration. By 1978, the new road was completed as far as Ridge Road, and K-96 was shifted onto a temporary alignment on Ridge Road south to 21st, then on 21st East to Zoo Boulevard, then south on I-235 to US 54 east. The new route from Ridge Road east to I-235 was completed by 1981. K-96 was then re-routed south on I-135 from 235 to US 54, then east on US 54. In 1981, work began on a new freeway alignment on US 54/US 77/K-96 east from August to the US 54/77/K-96 junction. Work was completed by 1987.
The 1990s saw changes that led to the the road's eventual trucation to Wichita. In 1988, work finally began on the Northeast bypass. However; the alignment was changed compared to the original 1970 proposal. The selected alignment now meets US 54 3 miles east of the original proposal and, instead of ending at K-254, the new freeway has its nortwest end at I-135. The New freeway was shown as complete to 13th Street by 1993 and from 13th Street to US 54 by 1995. In May of 1994, work began on relocating K-96 from Beaumont east about 4 1/2 miles. In December of 1994, KDOT designated a new highway, US 400, across southern Kansas. 400 was co-designated with K-96 from Wichita east to Fredonia. In 1995, work began on the new US 400, running from North of Fredonia, bypassing Fredonia on the east and Neodesha to the west before turning east to US 160 north of Cherryvale. Meanwhile, the route from Wichita to Hutchinson was 4-laned, and a new 2-lane alignment on the west side of Hutchinson began construction. The final truncation of K-96 occurred in December, 1998, after the new US 400 was opened. K-96 from Independence east to Crestline was re-designated as US 160, and the connection to Missouri was turned over to Crawford County. MO 96 was truncated to MO 171, with the segment from MO 171 west to the Kansas line re-designated as State Supplemental Route YY.
The 4-laning of K-96 between Wichita and Hutchinson, and the bypass of Hutch, was completed by 1999.Photos 1 2