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50 for 50 | Sam Rayburn Turnpike

Sam Rayburn Tollway, formerly known as State Highway 121 or 121 Tollway, extends northeast from Business SH 121 near the Dallas/Denton county line to U.S. 75 in Collin County, offering accessibility to several Metroplex destinations. The toll road, which became part of the North Texas Tollway Authority’s network on Sept. 1, 2008, features six main lanes and an all-electronic toll collection, also known as cashless tolling. The full 26.2 miles of roadway are open to traffic, including the direct connector ramps at US 75 and at the Dallas North Tollway, and I-35E.

While many people know the advantages this convenient roadway offers today, fewer are familiar with the story behind it, and the Texas history associated with the man whose name it bears.

SH 121 was originally numbered on March 17, 1927, as a direct route between Fort Worth and SH 40 near the Dallas-Denton County line. On April 24, 1928, it extended to McKinney and, by 1933, the route had been completed from Fort Worth, northeast through Grapevine, to its intersection with SH 40/U.S. Route 77 in far southern Denton County. On December 16, 1943, an ambitious plan to extend SH 121 northeast beyond McKinney to Bonham was approved by TxDOT.

The roadway has been through many transitions, numbers, and North Texas cities, and, most recently, was extended to US 67 in Cleburne. But the name it bears today is one worth knowing: It’s that of one of Texas’s most prestigious statesman, a hard-working, humble man by the name of Sam Rayburn.

Like many other Texans of note, Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn was born in Tennessee, but got here as fast as he could, making Bonham his eventual home. He was the 43rd Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Affectionately known to many Texans simply as “Mr. Sam,” Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn (January 6, 1882 – November 16, 1961) was an American politician who served as the 43rd Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Born into poverty and raised on a cotton farm in Windom, Texas, Rayburn was a three-time House Speaker, former House Majority Leader, two-time House Minority Leader, and a 24-term congressman, representing Texas's 4th congressional district as a Democrat from 1913 to 1961. He holds the record for the longest tenure as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, serving for more than 17 years across his three separate stints.

In Rayburn's third and final tenure as Speaker, from 1955 to 1961, he worked with then-Majority Leader Senator Lyndon B. Johnson Rayburn helped pass numerous landmark bills such as the National Aeronautics and Space Act that established NASA, the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 that established the FAA, the National Defense Education Act, the Colorado River Storage Project Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the Civil Rights Act of 1960, which were the first civil rights acts passed since Reconstruction. He also helped pass the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act that established the Interstate Highway System, so it seems fitting that one of North Texas’s most important roadways is named after one of its best statesman.

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