Friday, February 17, 2012

What's In A Name? US 71 to Become I-49

MoDOT is preparing for final projects in the transformation of U.S. Route 71 from national highway to interstate standards. Why?

The change will increase economic opportunities for Missouri and enhance the safety of travelers.

When businesses consider locating in Missouri, one of the first factors they consider is access to quality transportation. Preference is given to locations that are near to interstate highways. The I-49 designation will ensure this factor is not an obstacle for the communities along the corridor between Kansas City and Joplin. Plus, the I-49 designation benefits Kansas City’s development as an “inland port” for the flow of freight throughout the country.

Traffic on the US 71 corridor between Kansas City and Joplin already consists of 30 percent trucks. The route connects Kansas City's interstates with Interstate 44. As freight volumes are expected to increase, we believe upgrading U.S. 71 to interstate standards makes sense.

Future projects in Arkansas are expected to complete I-49's path from New Orleans to Kansas City, making road transport of freight to and from the Port of New Orleans more efficient. This has exciting implications.

In 2014, the expansion of the Panama Canal will be complete. Super container ships that are now unable to squeeze through the canal will be able to bring their cargo into the Port of New Orleans. The drive from New Orleans to Kansas City is shorter than the drive from the west coast ports, so the cost to bring goods to the midwest should fall. That's good news for consumers.

The transformation is more than just a name change. In order to be classified as an interstate, a route must meet stringent requirements. U.S. 71 largely met the requirements from Kansas City to Missouri's southern border. However, because no at-grade intersections are allowed on an interstate, several interchanges were either built or are underway. Intersections with ramps and overpasses are much safer than those that occur at-grade (without overpasses or underpasses). They virtually eliminate T-bone-type crashes.

We believe the investment made to transform U.S. 71 into Interstate 49 will pay off both economically and in safety for Missourians in decades to come.