Dec. 12, 2012, is the day U.S. Highway 71 from Kansas City past Joplin will become Interstate 49.
"I-49? They could have called it any number, but it's great," Ralph Kalmer said.
Kalmer works at Family Center Farm and Home in Harrisonville, MO, located right off U.S. Highway 71 and Missouri Highway 291.
"Store's been here for more than 25 years," he said.
Like a lot of businesses in the area, he's hoping the roadway's name change will mean more business. He's just a little concerned about the construction that'll be happening during the transition period.
"Once they start the overpass I don't know how they're going to do it, but it probably will slow down then," Kalmer said.
The revamp of a 180-mile stretch of Highway 71 from just south of Interstate 435 all the way past Joplin is a plan that's been decades in the making.
The project includes several new overpasses and interchanges in Cass, Bates, Vernon and Barton counties - eliminating at-grade crossings, meaning those without overpasses or underpasses, and making it safer for drivers. One new overpass now safely carries drivers across Highway 71 south of Harrisonville.
"By eliminating those grade crossings it becomes a safer highway. You no longer have those conflict points where you have a potential for accidents," Sean Matlock with the Missouri Department of Transportation said.
The transformation is more than just a name change, MoDOT said in their release. In order to be classified as an interstate, a route must meet strict requirements. Because no at-grade intersections, meaning those without overpasses or underpasses, are allowed on an interstate, several interchanges were either built or are being built. MoDOT said intersections with ramps and overpasses are much safer than those that occur without overpasses or underpasses and they virtually eliminate T-bone-type crashes.
MoDOT said the change will increase economic opportunities for Missouri and enhance the safety of travelers.
"When businesses consider locating in Missouri, one of the first factors they consider is access to quality transportation. Preference is given to locations that are near to interstate highways," MoDOT said on their website.
Already all along Highway 71 the I-49 signs are up while not yet visible to drivers.
MoDOT said the $63 million project has actually been in the works since 1991.
This is part of a broader effort by Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri to complete I-49 from New Orleans to Kansas City.
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