By the 1950s, roadways in Ohio were antiquated. Most American families owned at least one car, dramatically increasing the amount of traffic on the roads. Automobiles also were much safer and capable of traveling at much faster speeds than earlier cars, enhancing Ohioans' desire for better roads.
In 1949, the Ohio government established the Ohio Turnpike Commission. This office was to finance and construct a turnpike that crossed northern Ohio. The turnpike would connect with the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the East and with another highway in Indiana in the West. James W. Shocknessey, chairperson of the Ohio Turnpike Commission, financed the roadway's construction with state bonds.
Construction began on October 27, 1952. At the peak of construction, more than ten thousand workers, using more than 2,300 construction vehicles, were building the roadway. The workers completed the Ohio Turnpike, later known as the James W. Shocknessey Turnpike, on October 1, 1955. The turnpike was 241 miles in length, and construction cost 325 million dollars.
Providing a fast and safe route across the northern part of Ohio, the roadway became an instant success, as thousands of people utilized it. On the first day alone, forty-four thousand cars traveled on the turnpike. By 2000, more than forty-five million cars used the James W. Shocknessey Ohio Turnpike.
The Ohio Turnpike Commission continues to operate the James W. Shocknessey Ohio Turnpike. According to the commission, its goal is, "To operate and maintain a user-fee supported highway with sound financial management that provides motorists and travelers with safe, modern and helpful services." Near the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Ohio Turnpike Commission sought to improve safety and alleviate congestion on the turnpike. The commission has begun to add a third lane in each direction between Toledo and Youngstown. It also has begun to modernize service plazas along the route. One of the Ohio Turnpike Commission's major accomplishments has been to keep the turnpike open in all types of weather. In a forty-year period, weather conditions have closed the turnpike for only seventy-seven hours.