By James R. Campbell
Nevada Daily Mail
Wednesday's Interstate 49 opening ceremony in Joplin will cap 25 years of expenditure and work on the 190-mile route from Kansas City to Pineville in Missouri's far southwestern corner.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez of Washington and official state delegations from Arkansas and Louisiana will take part in the noon event in Joplin's East Middle School Gymnasium at 7501 E. 26th St.
If you plan to attend, the Missouri Department of Transportation advises an early arrival because a large crowd is expected and you may have to park a short distance away and walk.
MoDOT spokeswoman Angela Eden of Springfield said Monday that the opening and Wednesday afternoon uncovering of I-49 signs the length of the four-lane divided highway "is a pretty exciting deal because it's not every day that we get approved to have a new interstate in Missouri.
"We think it will definitely help with economic development because a lot of companies want to be located along the corridor for ease of access and distribution of goods and services," Eden said. "The biggest change is that it is now a limited access highway.
"The only way to get on and off the roadway is by interchanges with ramps. Before, U.S. 71 had a lot of at-grade intersections with county and state roads. With the upgrading, all those at-grade crossings have been removed, which leads to the second benefit.
"If you control vehicles' entering and exiting, it definitely enhances safety. We built 16 interchanges and seven overpasses and lengthened ramps from Kansas City to Joplin."
That work included the construction of five traffic interchanges and an overpass costing a total of $24.2 million in Vernon County, including the entire project's recently completed finishing touch, a $6.8 million interchange at U.S. 71 and Highway TT south of Rich Hill.
Eden noted that the U.S. 71 signs and I-49 "shields," as they are called, are being left side by side because 71 in Missouri stays part of the national U.S. 71 corridor.
MoDOT spokesman Bob Edwards of Springfield said recently that planning started in the late 1980s and construction in the mid-1990s to bring the task to fruition this week.
Other Vernon County interchanges are at Highway D south of Horton, DD south of Milo, E at Milo and M at Compton Junction. The overpass is at County Road 290, where an at-grade crossing was eliminated between highways D and M.
I-49 has been designated by Congress to run 540 miles from Kansas City to Shreveport, La., and connect with the existing I-49 corridor between Shreveport and Lafayette, La., according to references.
MoDOT said in a news release that commercial truckers and some farmers "should take note that some regulations, including those pertaining to maximum weight and axle weight distribution, are more strict when a truck travels an interstate highway.
"Farmers should note that agricultural implements are prohibited from operating under their own power on an interstate highway," the department said. "That means farmers who might have driven tractors or combines on U.S. 71 will have to haul the machinery once the highway is designated I-49. If the machinery being hauled results in a load that exceeds highway width, height and length restrictions, a permit must be obtained."
A spokesman said MoDOT's Motor Carrier Services division should be contacted at (866) 831-6277 about oversize and overweight permits.