JOPLIN, Mo. — There was a time when old Highway 71 curved through the Ozarks and Boston Mountains from Kansas City, Missouri, to Fort Smith, Arkansas. However about 30 years ago the building began towards what will open September 30, 2021. Gov. Parson from Missouri and Gov. Hutchinson from both states will cut the ribbon in a special ceremony. Then it will open the following day to all traffic..

The final five miles of I-49 to connect Missouri to Arkansas, making 290 continuous interstate miles in this Midwest corridor. Traffic studies show that volume will increase by 40% as I-49 will connect at the north terminus to the east/west I-70. Then in Arkansas to I-40 the south terminus. 

Karen Lane, MoDOT Project Manager, recently gave us a tour of the I-49 connector. 

“It’s just five miles. We began work in Spring of 2020,” she says while showing us the divided interstate. “They are finishing the drains now.” 

Workers had already framed boxes when concrete was poured for drains under the interstate. Now they are clearing the boxes and installing the metal grates. “You don’t want water to drain all the way across both lanes,” she says so these drains go to the middle and then drain under the road, dumping out on the side (see image). 

I ask about the small cuts in the divider wall saying I thought those were for draining water. She is quick to educate us that they are wildlife crossings for turtles and such. “The theory is that animals will climb up a hill, reach the surface of the road, then cross.” 

These notched openings are at the bottom edges of the median barrier, where a hill and valley meet, and animals can scurry through (see image).

  • Final five miles of I-49 in Missouri between Pineville and Missouri/ Arkansas border.
  • Funded by $25 million (BUILD) federal grant (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) , $70 million total cost.
  • I-49 will stretch 290 miles between Kansas City, Mo. (I-70) and Fort Smith, Ark. (I-40).

According to MoDOT records this road design and layout was years in the making. There were three different paths. This one is the furthest west (see image).

As she drove us from MO-90 to the north end of the connector it was almost a blink to Pineville, Missouri, where the new I-49 will connect. It will be a fast connect from there to the Arkansas line. 

We stop at this ‘cut’ about 3.5 mile marker. She explains to us this is where where they cut the mountain out, then take that rock and ‘fill’ the adjacent valleys with that rock. “You always have a cut and then fill.”

“These are the benches,” she shows us, the horizontal ledges that look like tall steps. There are two benches in most of this cut. That way you won’t have rocks fall to the roadway as it erodes over time, because it will erode (see image).

Along this new scenic road is where Lane says MoDOT negotiated and purchased the land. “We didn’t take out any houses,” she says. As we stop and she shows us another one of the many ‘cut and fills’. “We did make these huge tunnels under the road so this landowners cows can cross under the highway to his property on the other side.” 

Other drainage tunnels under the new I-49 she notes only by pointing, because they are 100+ feet down in a valley, will allow the creeks and water to continue to flow, Mill Creek, Goodin Hollow Creek, and other runoff creeks. But closest to the border, Rattlesnake Hollow (see image).

Arkansas have just a few things to finish to the border of Rattlesnake Hollow. They’ve been using the new I-49 to the Highlands Golf Course neighborhood for years. 

The connector will open September 30 with a special event and ceremony with Governors from both states, Missouri and Arkansas. It will open to the public on October 1. Watch here on our news tab for more stories. 

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