The planning of the national expressway started in the mid-1970s. In 1977, the Malaysian Ministry of Works received official instructions to draw plans of an expressway from the Malaysia-Thailand border (Bukit Kayu Hitam) to the Johor Causeway. In 1980, the Malaysian Highway Authority (LLM) was established to monitor all the work progress of the first national expressway.
At that time, all construction works of the expressway between 1982 to 1988 was solely administered by Malaysian Highway Authority before being transferred to Projek Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan Berhad (PLUS) in 1988. As the construction works continued, segments of the highway were opened to traffic as they were finished to help fund the construction works. PLUS continued all the construction works from 1988 until completion in 1994, 15 months earlier than scheduled. The expressway was officially opened on September 8, 1994 by Malaysian prime minister at that time, Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad.