The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission (MHTC) recently approved highway construction resulting in the upgrading of the U.S. 71 corridor between Kansas City and Joplin to interstate standards by the end of 2012. The upgraded interstate would have the designation I-49. The Missouri Department of Transportation believes the proposed improvements will “enhance economic opportunities and freight movement.”

The funds for this project were originally intended to be used for a four-lane bypass of Bella Vista, AR, creating an interstate from Joplin to Fort Smith, Ark. However, the Arkansas State Highway Commission has indicated that, due to funding shortfalls, it intends to construct a two-lane Bella Vista bypass in phases over six years. A two-lane bypass would not be compatible with interstate standards. For this reason, the MHTC shifted its priorities on U.S. 71.

“We need to capitalize on the opportunity to bring I-49 to Missouri between Kansas City and Joplin,” said Rudy Farber, MHTC Chairman, “but still work with Arkansas toward progress on the Bella Vista Bypass.”

Once improvements between Kansas City and Joplin are complete, any remaining funds will be used to begin construction of the Bella Vista Bypass in coordination with Arkansas.

The improvements to U.S. 71 between Kansas City and Joplin that are necessary to attain Interstate status include the construction of seven interchanges, four overpasses and one set of outer roads:

  • Cass County — Two overpasses and one interchange
  • Bates County — One interchange and one set of outer roads
  • Vernon County — Five interchanges and one overpass
  • Barton County — One overpass