The long-awaited upgrade of a 180-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 71 officially opens at noon today in the hope of bringing business from the Gulf Coast and more to Missouri. Interstate 49, running along the state’s western edge from Interstate 435 in Kansas City south to Arkansas, is the newest link in an asphalt chain that will connect New Orleans, Louisiana and Winnipeg, Canada.
According to a press release from the Missouri Department of Transportation, the goal with I-49 is to attract businesses to Missouri intent on expanding into areas with proximity to interstate highways. Over-the-road trucking, already a third of the traffic on the highway in its old configuration according to the Kansas City Star, is expected to increase immediately.
The most significant change in converting a U.S. highway into an interstate highway is the switch from same-level intersections—meaning stoplights and slowdowns—to over- and underpasses. The changeover for I-49 cost the state approximately $63 million to build and has been in the works for more than two decades.
With I-49 completed, truckers and travelers alike can connect from I-49 to I-29 in Kansas City, allowing them a continuous route to the Canadian border. The new highway will not allow for continuous travel south into Louisiana yet, however, as work has yet to be completed on Arkansas’ section of I-49.