Posted on Sun, Sep. 02, 2012 09:19 PM

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U.S. 71 from Kansas City to Joplin to become Interstate 49

Updated: 2012-09-03T03:31:04Z

U.S.  71 in Missouri between Kansas City and Pineville, Mo., will be renamed Interstate 49.
U.S. 71 in Missouri between Kansas City and Pineville, Mo., will be renamed Interstate 49.

About Interstate 49

• Bruce R. Watkins Drive will not become part of Interstate 49 because the at-grade crossings and stoplights at Gregory Boulevard, and 59th and 55th streets will remain. I-49 will run south from Interstate 435.

• Between Kansas City and Joplin, MoDOT spent $63.3 million to build nine new interchanges, four new overpasses and three outer road projects.

• Installing about 1,200 I-49 signs cost $3.5 million.

• Kansas City will have four interstate highways, not counting the 435, 470 and 635 local routes.

• Cass County will have an interstate for the first time.

• Missouri will not receive any additional federal funding along with the new interstate.

• North-south interstates are assigned odd numbers and east-west routes get even numbers.

More News

Rand McNally will soon put another pretty blue line on its Missouri road maps, as Kansas City adds one more interstate to the network of connections that already make the region a transportation hub.

The 180-mile stretch of U.S. 71 from south Kansas City to Joplin and beyond will become Interstate 49 once the last few finishing touches are completed by early November. The official designation is scheduled for noon on Dec. 12, as in 12-12-12-12.

It will be a major milestone toward the long-sought goal of a direct interstate connection all the way to New Orleans. For points south of Kansas City, it will mean an interstate connection, via I-29, all the way to Manitoba.

Aside from convenience and increased safety — no more at-grade crossings — the new interstate is expected to be a boon to the economies of the cities and towns it connects.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” said Michael Collins, president of the Kansas City Port Authority, which is promoting the redevelopment of the old Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base as a major intermodal freight facility.

“With regional, national and multinational firms that are looking for logistics centers, many times their first question is, ‘What’s the interstate connectivity?’ ”

In Joplin, still rebuilding after the devastating tornado and a city where 8 percent of all jobs are tied to transportation, it is also a most welcome development.

“For Joplin to go from one interstate to two, or communities between Kansas City and Joplin to say they are now on an interstate, it really creates a sense of connectivity, which we believe will bring economic growth,” said Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce.

Con-way Truckload, a major logistics company headquartered in Joplin, expects more truck stops to be built along the new interstate.

“We saw the central part of the country become the crossroads of America after the other interstates were built,” said Saul Gonzalez, Con-way chief operating officer. “And the new interstate will only improve that.”

Kansas City SmartPort, a nonprofit organization promoting this region as a logistics hub, is also pumped.

“Four interstates is a big deal compared to three,” said Chris Gutierrez, SmartPort president. “It opens up that whole southern region.”

Gutierrez also predicted that more federal dollars for economic development will flow to the new interstate corridor. Another bonus, he said, will be increased tourism to and from Kansas City.

Trucks make up 30 percent of the traffic on U.S. 71 now, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation, and the route is the second busiest freight artery out of Kansas City. That traffic is expected to increase once the highway becomes an interstate.

U.S. 71 is already a divided highway with a 70 mph speed limit. But becoming an interstate means more than just planting the familiar blue-and-red shields on the shoulders.

The key difference is the elimination of all intersections with cross roads that can slow traffic and cause deadly accidents. That’s as important for locals as it is for travelers. Ask students and parents in the Archie, Mo., school district, where buses now safely use a new overpass to cross the busy highway.

MoDOT has awarded $63.3 million in contracts since 2009 to remove all at-grade crossings between Kansas City and Joplin. That has meant building four new overpasses and nine new interchanges as well as three outer road projects.

In Cass County, new overpasses opened last month at 283rd and 327th streets. A new interchange at 307th Street should be completed by early next month.

Most of the Missouri projects were funded with an 80 percent contribution from the federal government. Four projects were funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The section of highway south of Joplin is complete and ready for interstate designation as far as the small town of Pineville, about five miles from the Arkansas border. At that point, the highway is supposed to connect someday to a bypass around the town of Bella Vista, just across the state line in Arkansas.

Missouri was prepared to build its portion of the bypass, estimated at $40 million, until Arkansas said it did not have the money to do its part. That’s when the Missouri highway commission decided to shift its focus and money to the section north of Joplin.

“We do not want to build a four-lane freeway that dead-ends at the state line,” said Sean Matlock, MoDOT’s manager for the I-49 project.

Arkansas is building a two-lane section of the bypass, but it is not clear when it will be able to complete the project to interstate standards. In fact, Arkansas holds the key to when or whether the new interstate connects all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

There is already an interstate south of Bella Vista to Fort Smith, Ark., and the road south of Texarkana almost to the Louisiana line is up to interstate standards. But there remains a gap of 180 miles in between that includes crossing the Ouachita Mountains. The estimated cost to finish the interstate in Arkansas is a staggering $3 billion.

“I-49 is a huge priority,” said Randy Ort, spokesman for the Arkansas highway department. “However, when you’re strapped for funds as we are...”

In Louisiana, interstate highway already exists from Shreveport to New Orleans. The state is spending $622 million to complete the 36 miles of I-49 north of Shreveport to the Arkansas line. Susan Stafford, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, said the work is scheduled to be completed by 2016.

To reach Matt Campbell call 816-234-4902 or send email to mcampbell@kcstar.com.

Posted on Sun, Sep. 02, 2012 09:19 PM
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