U.S. 71 to Become I-49 in December
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On December 12 at noon, there will be another interstate highway in the metro area as U.S. 71 from Kansas City south to Joplin will officially become Interstate 49.
Officials with the Missouri Department of Transportation say that the finishing touches, including changing all at-grade crossings to overpasses, will be complete by early November, and will be a big step forward in creating an all-interstate connection between Kansas City and New Orleans.
The interstate designation is expected to be an economic boon in Missouri, especially near the intermodal freight facility at the former Richards-Gebauer Air Force Base in south Kansas City.
The nearly $64 million project – which was 80 percent paid for by the federal government using stimulus dollars – will stretch southwards from the current U.S. 71 – I-435 interchange in south Kansas City. The Bruce R. Watkins Drive through Kansas City is not part of the project, and will remain unchanged.
Because of a class-action agreement between the state and local residents along Bruce R. Watkins Drive, the state and city are forbidden from turning the roadway – which was a long-time source of controversy in the surrounding neighborhoods both before and during construction, into an interstate or restricted-access highway without a court order.
The I-49 project will end at Pineville, Missouri – just north of the Arkansas border. According to the Kansas City Star, officials in Arkansas are struggling to find funds to complete the interstate through a 180-mile stretch of the Ouachita Mountains.
The cost of completing the project in Arkansas – and thus completing an uninterrupted interstate path from New Orleans to the Canadian border via I-29 – is estimated at $3 billion dollars, the Star reports.
Not including local interstates 435, 635 and 470, the completion of I-49 will give the metro area four major interstate routes with I-70, I-35 and I-29.