Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez joined state, federal and local officials recently for the redesignation of 180 miles of U.S. 71, which will now be known as I-49. Over the last two decades, the highway was rebuilt to interstate standards to increase traffic capacity in the region and improve the state's economic competitiveness.
Formerly known as U.S. 71, construction on the first segment of the new I-49—from I-44 south to Pineville, near the Arkansas state line—began in 1993. Work on the second segment—from I-44 north to Kansas City—began in 2009. Upgrades to numerous interchanges and overpasses, and the elimination of at-grade rail crossings along the route, will improve safety for the thousands who use the route daily.
The $314.6 million project relied on $251.7 million in federal funds.
Once a 5-mile-long segment of U.S. 71—known as the "Bella Vista Bypass"—is rebuilt to interstate standards, Missouri's I-49 will be completed. Arkansas and Louisiana are currently working to rebuild key segments of their highways to complete I-49. Once completed, the uninterrupted I-49—stretching more than 1,600 miles—will significantly improve freight movement through the central U.S. from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
"This is one of the most visible examples of how the region is recovering from last year's tornado," said Administrator Mendez. "Improving traffic flow along one of the nation's most important economic corridors will make a big difference to those living in and traveling through the region."
According to Missouri DOT figures, 16,000 drivers use the route each day—a figure they expect will nearly double to 30,000 drivers in the next 20 years.
"This new and improved route answers President Obama's call for an America built to last," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "It not only put people to work but, in the years to come, it will strengthen the economy by helping freight move more easily from the Midwest to markets worldwide."