A plan decades in the making is finally official in western Missouri. A 180-mile stretch of four-lane highway formerly known as U.S. 71 will be re-designated Interstate 49 at a ceremony starting at noon Wednesday in Joplin, Mo. The Associated Press notes all but a five-mile stretch of the Missouri portion is complete. The highway will eventually be finished in Louisiana and Arkansas to provide a transportation link from the Gulf of Mexico into Canada through the center of the United States.
* The new I-49 corridor starts south of Kansas City and goes to south of Joplin. Several intersections had to be upgraded and bypasses built around cities such as Joplin.
* Missouri's portion of the new highway cost $400 million to construct. U.S. 71 was already a four-lane highway between Joplin and Kansas City. Interchanges had to be upgraded and new ones constructed to receive the federal designation of an interstate highway, according to the Associated Press.
* The final piece of Missouri's section was built over the past five years at a cost of $63 million. The last five-mile stretch to the Arkansas border will be constructed when Arkansas works on its portion. Otherwise, I-49 would dead end in the middle of nowhere as the other highway wouldn't be complete.
* Planning for the new highway began in the 1980s. Construction started in the 1990s. Interchanges were completed from 2010 to 2012.
* The Kansas City Star reports the Missouri Department of Transportation invested $150 million over the past five years to finish the current project. New overpasses were constructed around Kansas City. More than 20 at-grade crossings were eliminated with new interchanges.
* Trucks along U.S. 71 account for one-third of the traffic on the highway coming out of Kansas City. With the new interstate upgrades, that ratio will likely increase.
* Some new rules will go into effect Wednesday. Farmers moving machinery such as tractors or combines will have to haul the vehicles on trailers rather than drive them. Motorized bicycles are prohibited. Size and weight limits have a 90-day grace period until March 11.
* Missouri will continue to improve the I-49 corridor. A new interchange is planned in Harrisonville, Mo., for 2014 to go along with widening Missouri Highway 7.
* Arkansas' portion of the highway that bypasses Bella Vista, Ark., is 13 miles long. The entire stretch of highway will connect the final piece of Interstate 540 to I-49. Louisiana will finish its portion of I-49 later in 2013.
* The Arkansas section is expected to cost $3 billion, a project that currently has no funding. U.S. 71 south of Interstate 40 and north of Interstate 30 must be improved to complete the largest remaining portion of the I-49 corridor.
* The new interstate, when combined with I-29 in Kansas City, will eventually become a north-south corridor from New Orleans near the Gulf of Mexico all the way to the Canadian border into Winnipeg, Manitoba.
William Browning, a lifelong Missouri resident, writes about local and state issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. Born in St. Louis, Browning earned his bachelor's degree in English from the University of Missouri. He currently resides in Branson.
- Kansas City