JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission (MHTC) today approved highway construction resulting in the upgrading of the US 71 corridor between Kansas City and Joplin to interstate standards by the end of 2012.
"Improving US 71 between I-435 in Kansas City and I-44 near Joplin enhances economic development opportunities and freight movement," said Missouri Department of Transportation Interim Director Kevin Keith. "We are excited about getting closer to an I-49 designation in Missouri."
The original intent was to fund a four-lane bypass of Bella Vista, Ark., creating an interstate from Joplin to Fort Smith, Ark. However, recent correspondence from the Arkansas State Highway Commission indicates that due to funding shortfalls it intends to construct a two-lane Bella Vista bypass in phases over six years.
Since a two-lane bypass would not be compatible with interstate standards, the MHTC was compelled to shift its priorities on US 71.
"We need to capitalize on the opportunity to bring I-49 to Missouri between Kansas City and Joplin," said Rudy Farber, Commission Chairman, "but still work with Arkansas toward progress on the Bella Vista Bypass."
Once improvements between Kansas City and Joplin are complete, any remaining funds will be used to begin construction of the Bella Vista Bypass in coordination with Arkansas.
Editor's note: A corridor map and interchange image are available at: www.modot.mo.gov/southwest/I49Update.htm
(Image Cutline): Traffic moves steadily through the recently completed US 71/Route 126 interchange in Barton County. With funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), work is complete or nearing completion on converting at-grade crossings to interchanges along US 71 at Route 126, Route DD/EE, Route V-C, and Route 52E. Upcoming improvements are in Cass, Bates, Vernon and Barton counties. Eliminating at-grade crossings along US 71 is a part of upgrading the highway to interstate standards.