New interstate designation expected to benefit economy

The new interstate designation will encourage economic and population growth.
Cait Campbell / Graphic Designer

The stretch of U.S. 71 between Kansas City and Joplin is set to become Interstate 49 starting Dec. 12.

The change is expected to attract more businesses and increase economic growth, said Sean Matlock, Missouri Department of Transportation project manager.

Safety was among the factors that played into the I-49 improvements, Matlock said. At-grade intersections were removed and replaced with interchanges during the construction, which will help to reduce accidents that occurred at those intersections.

“One of the requirements of an interstate is that you can only have access at interchanges,” Matlock said. “Those property owners (that lived near intersections) are affected in that way would be a downside, but you need to weigh that against the increased safety since you don’t have conflict at those at-grade intersections. You have your biggest proportion of accidents at those locations. It will be a safer route by removing those.”

The process to convert the existing U.S. 71 into I-49 began in 2009. Since then, $63.3 million of contracts have been awarded to various contractors to complete the interstate. Federal funds comprised 80 percent of the budget, while the remaining 20 percent came from state revenue.

These construction projects have entailed removing all remaining at-grade intersections by constructing interchanges, overpasses and outer roads as necessary, according to a news release from MoDot.

The nearly completed interstate is expected to be a positive change for the state, said Michael Collins, president and CEO of the Kansas City Port Authority.

“This new interstate designation will open the door for the possibility of expanded regional and national commerce and global trade,” Collins said in an email. “Having a federally designated interstate between Kansas City, Mo. and New Orleans, La. will create a wide array of opportunities for import and export freight that needs a north-south connection.”

Matlock said the new interstate will be beneficial for the state.

“Most of the communities up and down the corridor have been excited about (I-49),” Matlock said. “They see it as a positive in the fact that there is the possibility of future development along the corridor. When companies are looking for places, a lot of times they look for your interstate connectivity.”

I-49 is expected to be finished in November, Matlock said. It will be unveiled in a ceremony Dec. 12 in Joplin.

While the new interstate will not directly impact the Columbia area, Steven Sapp, Columbia Public Works spokesman, said it can still be beneficial for the town.

“Any improvements to state and federal highways have positive impacts across the region,” Sapp said in an email. “While time will tell if this particular project has any direct benefits to Columbia and the university, the indirect benefits of improved infrastructure is that it offers safer highways and options to travelers. In this case, with I-49 connecting (the Kansas City) area to the Shreveport, La., area, it offers options to folks traveling, say, to the SEC games with LSU.”

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