By James R. Campbell
Nevada Daily Mail
The Dec. 12 redesignation of U.S. 71 as Interstate 49 from Kansas City to Pineville in Missouri's far southwestern corner will be a milestone, historically and economically, for Nevada and Vernon County, officials say.
City, county and state governmental officials have worked on the $500 million effort since the 1980s, and some said Tuesday that they expect its first benefit will be the appearance of transportation-related businesses.
Nevada City Manager JD Kehrman, State Rep.-elect Randy Pike, R-Adrian, and spokespersons for the Missouri Department of Transport-ation and Nevada/Vernon County Chamber of Commerce agreed that MoDOT's Joplin ceremony and unveiling of I-49 signs will be a good deal more than symbolic.
"I-49 will be an economic driver for Nevada to the extent we have prepared infrastructure and incentive packages to make our area attractive," said Kehrman. "The job clusters we expect to see along the corridor first and foremost include trucking, storage and logistics. It's imperative that we have property available that is appropriately zoned.
"Infrastructure for these types of businesses may be as simple as concrete streets for trucking or water and sewer for warehousing, or it may be as sophisticated as high speed Internet for logistics. If we prepare our doorstep, we should expect I-49 to be a driver."
Pike is an outgoing Bates County commissioner who has worked for I-49 for the past seven years as a board member of the Missouri Association of Counties and as chairman of the Clinton-based Kaysinger Basin Regional Planning Commission.
"My main thing was to upgrade the overpasses for safety reasons, because we had some horrible overpasses," Pike said from Jefferson City. "I hope economic development will be a major issue because the traffic load will pick up and more businesses will open, up and down the highway.
"I'm relying on the cities and counties of Bates and Vernon to jump in there and make it lucrative."
Pike was asked if the anticipation of I-49 has played the major role in Nevada's acquisition of about 40 new businesses and business expansions in the past year or if the development is more attributable to independent growth. "I think it's a little of both," he said.
"Some was highway-related; and they've done a good job of promoting Nevada."
MoDOT spokesman Bob Edwards said the Dec. 12 ceremony at Joplin East Middle School will be gratifying, to say the least, for his department, which has spent $24.2 million in Vernon County to build five interchanges and an overpass, and to get the Federal Highway Administration to accept the road.
The recently completed $6.8 million interchange at U.S. 71 and Route TT, south of Rich Hill, was MoDOT's last link in the 190-mile route, Edwards said Tuesday, from Jefferson City. "Construction started in the mid-1990s," he said.
"That's when we began our big push to continue four-laning 71 to Arkansas. But getting I-49 designated was a goal even before that. We started planning in the late '80s to build it to interstate standards so we could convert it when it was approved by the federal government.
"MoDOT crews will start around noon Dec. 12 to turn around or uncover all the I-49 signs," Edwards said. "So people will start seeing them."
Vernon County's new $1.7 million overpass is at County Road 290, where a dangerous at-grade crossing was eliminated between highways D, south of Horton, and M at Compton Junction. Other new interchanges are at DD, south of Milo, E at Milo, D and M.
Congress designated I-49 from Kansas City to Shreveport, La., connecting to the existing I-49 corridor between Shreveport and Lafayette, La. It is about 540 miles from Kansas City to Shreveport.
Nevada/Vernon County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Gina Ensor said the highway "is a very important thing for this community that will bring about growth we would not have even suspected.
"We've had calls from all over the country, North Carolina, Georgia and Texas, from businesses wanting to locate in Nevada. A lot are looking for property right off the interstate because we have good land for fair prices and a dedicated workforce. This is a prime spot for any entrepreneur looking to start a new business."
Ensor cited 2012 start-ups or expansions by local businesses including Conway Trucking, Heart-land Behavioral Health Services, Daily Donuts, Floorshiners, LeerPrecision mechanics and carpentry, Joe's Fishing Poles & Bikes, Countryside View Green-house, Attitudes Salon & JavaTude Cafe, What to Wear, Caldwell Brakes, JMP Landscaping, IC Ice food and grocery, Marketplace Street Market, Nevada Coin, Fastenal and G S Supply boxes, packing materials, party supplies and equipment rentals.
"A lot of people don't understand how Nevada could be growing so much, but it is a good place to do business," she said.