A dedication ceremony at noon on 12-12-2012 will bring to fruition almost 20 years of work by economic development advocates and highway builders and planners.
On that day, a new highway designation will go up that could change the way businesses and travelers look at Carthage, Jasper County and all of the western edge of Missouri.
The Missouri Department of Transportation and the Federal Highways Administration will officially remove the covers and turn the mile-marker signs around to add the designation Interstate 49 to the four-lane U.S. Highway 71 from Interstate 435 in Kansas City to Pineville in McDonald County.
For Joplin Chamber of Commerce Director Rob O’Brian, it’s the culmination of more than a decade and a half of work and advocacy.
“I’ve been involved with the I-49 effort probably for 17 years,” O’Brian said. “Highways take a long time to build, they’re expensive to build. It’s getting the money together and it seems to come a little bit at a time. I’m very excited about that because it really puts a success factor and closure to saying, ‘In Missouri we have done our part now.’ We’ve done our part of I-49. There are a few miles left to join up with Arkansas, but the funding is there, ready to go as Arkansas gets ready to go as they can with the passage of their sales tax for transportation.”
In the shorter term, the Dec. 12 ceremony is the closing out of a two-year, more-than-$50 million project to replace all the at-grade crossings on U.S. 71 with overpasses or interchanges. Close to Carthage, work was completed in mid-2011 to convert the Missouri 126 crossing just north of Jasper to an interchange.
The last interchange was completed earlier in November when an interchange replaced an awkward crossing on a curve in the highway at County Route TT in Vernon County.
Angela Eden, spokeswoman for MoDOT said the highway will now be designated both Interstate 49 and U.S. Highway 71.
“Interstate 49 runs from I-435 in Kansas City to Pineville, but the highway continues north into Kansas City and south into Bella Vista until it meets I-540 in Bentonville,” Eden said. “For that reason the U.S. 71 designation will be maintained. The only other change is that the business look 71 designation through Joplin will also be changed to Business I-49.”
Eden said Sen. Roy Blunt and Victor Mendez, director of the Federal Highway Administration, have confirmed that they will be at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which will be held at the temporary Joplin South Middle School in the Crossroads Industrial Park at County Route FF and County Road 190 southwest of Carthage.