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Interstate 49 (Corridors 1 and 37)

Routing

The North-South Corridor (NHS Corridor 1) roughly follows U.S. 71 from Shreveport, Louisiana, north to Kansas City, Missouri. It would include the Arkansas 540 freeway north of Fort Smith and the various segments of the U.S. 71 freeway in Arkansas and Missouri.

The Interstate 49 South Corridor (NHS Corridor 37) overlays U.S. 90 between Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana. It is possible that Corridors 1 and 37 will both become part of Interstate 49, which would run from New Orleans north to Kansas City.

For some great pictures of the corridor under construction as Interstate/Former Arkansas 540 north of Fort Smith, go to the Arkansas Highway Department U.S. 71 Relocation Project Page. It has some great photos of the ongoing construction as well as some neat artist renditions of future stretches of the freeway.

Although construction has not yet begun on most segments of Corridors 1 and 37, planning is underway for all of them. Let's look at the progress, starting in the south with the segment in southern Louisiana, then continuing north through Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, and Missouri.

New Orleans to Lafayette: Interstate 49 South

Due to a concerted effort by Louisianans along the Lafayette to New Orleans segment of U.S. 90, the TEA-21 legislation brought that section of highway into high priority status as Corridor 37. This southerly extension of Interstate 49 would provide another freeway entrance into New Orleans.

The 2001 National Geographic Road Atlas shows Future Interstate 49, which was approved as a "future" designation by AASHTO, between New Orleans and Lafayette. The AASHTO route numbering actions leading to this designation were: the section from Lafayette to Interstate 310 was approved as Future Interstate 49 in November 1998; Business U.S. 90 in Morgan City was approved in October 1999 after the new U.S. 90 was completed; and the section from Interstate 310 to Interstate 10 was approved as Future Interstate 49 in October 1999. Shields reflecting this designation have been erected. The first of these signs were placed around November 1998 along U.S. 90 and the Westbank Expressway in New Orleans.

Locally, the proposed Interstate upgrade is called "Interstate 49 South." The Interstate 49 South Coalition has an excellent web page that provides more information on plans to upgrade U.S. 90 into Interstate status.

Interstate 910

Interstate 49 will connect to Interstate 10 via the Westbank Expressway (Business U.S. 90). This route, which is Interstate-standard, has been proposed to be added to the Interstate system as Interstate 910 for a 9.7-mile segment from Interstate 10 to the end of the elevated West Bank Expressway. According to Kurumi's 3di page (Scott Oglesby), "Louisiana had requested Interstate 49 for this segment, as it intends to extend I-49 in a sweeping loop from its current terminus at I-10 in Lafayette. In May 1999, the state petitioned to apply the I-49 numbering to two existing freeway portions of U.S. 90, near New Orleans and from Raceland to Berwick. In September, AASHTO turned these down since neither is connected to I-49 proper. However, they offered the I-910 designation for the West Bank Expressway until I-49 is extended." Interstate 910 is referenced in an April 1, 2000 article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "Interstate 910 may pave path in New Orleans."

Adam Froehlig spotted some future I-49 corridor signs on the Westbank Expressway/Business U.S. 90 on a road trip at end of March 1999, but no Interstate 910 shields. It is unclear if these signs will remain when/if the Interstate 910 designation is placed on the Westbank Expressway. "The completed section of the Westbank is an Interstate-standard viaduct, which currently ends near Ames Blvd. in Marrero. West of Ames Blvd, the right-of-way is cleared for a ways and traffic is currently using what will be the frontage roads. Interstate 310 ending at U.S. 90 is what appears to be a half-finished diamond or folded-diamond (the existing ramps curve wide enough out to accommodate loops if that is what's planned. The Interstate 310 mainline itself extends a couple hundred feet south of the ramps and ends at what will be the embankment for the bridge over U.S. 90. How Interstate 310 will tie into Interstate 49 is not certain, although I suspect it will be some sort of elevated directional interchange (like Interstate 310/U.S. 61 or Interstate 310/Interstate 10), as the area is considerably swampy."

U.S. 90 from New Orleans to Lafayette

U.S. 90 between New Orleans and Lafayette has been undergoing expansion and construction for much of the past decade. Local officials hope that the designation of this corridor as High Priority will lead to additional funding to cover some gaps in the proposed new freeway. The conversion to freeway has been gradual.

During the early and mid-1990s, U.S. 90 was a four-lane, divided highway with some at-grade crossings between Lafayette and Morgan City. From there, the freeway portion was either under construction or already completed to east of Raceland. The next stretch to Des Allemands is near freeway quality as well. The last stretch into Westwego was also four lanes. By the summer of 1999, the entire length of U.S. 90 between Lafayette and New Orleans was four lanes.

As of August 2001, the conversion of U.S. 90 was halfway completed. However, funding is scarce. According to the article "Major I-49 projects unfunded" (by Mike Hasten, The Daily Advertiser, August 31, 2001), some segments that are unfunded include a $70-million-a-mile section through 4.25 miles of Lafayette, a $750 million 18-mile section near New Orleans, a new $75 million interchange at Interstate 10, a couple of $200 million projects near Morgan City, and several overpasses and interchanges.

According to Andy Jung, on July 20, 1999, Louisiana Governor Mike Foster cut the ribbon officially opening the final three-mile stretch of the four-lane U.S. 90 highway that will be incorporated into the future Interstate 49 in Amelia near Morgan City. According to comments made at the celebration, it took 55 years and almost $300 million to expand U.S. 90 between Lafayette and New Orleans to four lanes. Governor Foster said, "Our next goal is to make this an Interstate with controlled access. I commit to you [that] we will start that project and we will fight for its completion."

The construction of Interstate 49 in the Lafayette is expensive due to the extenstive development in the corridor. Currently, officials plan to route Interstate 49 along the RR-4 Elevated Corridor. It would follow Evangeline Thruway between U.S. 90 and Interstate 10, and the road would be elevated for a stretch in this area. Construction of the highway would also result in the shifting of a runway at the Lafayette Regional Airport. However, local opposition to this route has emerged, and some have suggested an alternate route via St. Martin Parish. It is unclear if these efforts will result in a relocation of Interstate 49 through the Lafayette area.

U.S. 90 is planned for an upgrade to Interstate standards for several reasons:

  • Heavy oilfield traffic. Both U.S. 90 and Louisiana 24 north out of Houma have considerable truck traffic.
  • Alternate route into New Orleans. Increased traffic demands on Interstates 10, 12, 55, and 59 require another ingress to the metro area. U.S. 90 will allow for another hurricane evacuation, which is always be a concern for a city that lies below sea level.
  • Improve safety of U.S. 90. U.S. 90 is infamous for safety issues because it was designed for a lower level of traffic than what it currently carries. The current highway is infamous for its accidents.

Interstate 49 South has long been planned as a primary route to and from New Orleans. According to a 1954 Rand McNally Road Atlas map, there was a proposed tollway called the Acadian Thruway that was planned to run between Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans. This tollway was shown along a slightly different path than modern Interstate 10, but it was never built since the advent of the Interstate System came in 1956. The path of the Acadian Thruway did not follow U.S. 90 or proposed Interstate 49 South.

Another good page on future Louisiana highway construction may be found at http://www.dotd.state.la.us/bypass/97dec_index.html.

Existing Interstate 49

Interstate 49 construction between Lafatyette and Shreveport began in the early 1980s and was completed by the mid-1990s. Since this is the only complete and signed Interstate section of Corridors 1 or 37 (besides Interstate 540), this section is not included in the high priority corridor.

Interstate 49 in Northern Louisiana

Interstate 49 will follow U.S. 71 from its current northern terminus in Shreveport north into Arkansas. Although unclear in the NHS/ISTEA/TEA-21 legislation, the path of Interstate 49 from Shreveport to Texarkana is not clearly defined. Some initial reports suggested that Interstate 49 would enter Texas before Arkansas. However, the current plans call for Interstate 49 to cross directly from Louisiana into Arkansas without entering Texas. However, there is a brief (six-mile) section of Interstate 49 near the Red River that will enter Texas.

Interstate 49 will roughly follow U.S. 71 north of Shreveport as it enters Arkansas. According to the Louisiana DOT Press Release: Identification of the Preferred Alignment, the location for the Interstate 49 alignment was based "on input received at public meetings held March 31 and April 1, 1998, and February 2, 1999, at which the preliminary highway alignment locations for the North-South Expressway were presented and discussed. The original alignments presented at the public meetings have been refined, in some areas, to address public and state and federal resource agency concerns with access, wetland impacts, and other sensitive environmental areas. The resulting Preferred Alignment best balances the expected project benefits with the overall impacts."

A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the North-South Connector/Interstate 49 was also prepared. The DEIS presents in detail the impacts and benefits of all alignments under consideration and was made available for public and resource agency review during the public hearings and comment periods from Summer 1999.

Interstate 49 in Arkansas and Texas

Check out Adam Froehlig's Future Interstate 49 Exit List.

The path of Interstate 49 in Arkansas is most likely to follow U.S. 71 and U.S. 59 from Louisiana through Arkansas. Communities served by Interstate 49 will include Barling, Greenwood, Mansfield, Waldron, Mena, De Queen, Ashdown, and Texarkana; in fact, these communities have banded together an "Interstate 49 Working Group" to help plan the new Interstate's path through western Arkansas. Like many other new highways, Interstate 49 has been rather controversial, as some residents are opposed to the multi-lane, divided freeway in their rural region. There is a brief cut into Texas near the Red River north of Texarkana.

Interstate 49 Routing in Arkansas (and Texas): Featuring Interstates 130 and 540

The official planned routing for Interstate 49 in Arkansas and Texas, as reported by Adam Froehlig and Jeremy Lance is as follows:

  • From the Louisiana-Arkansas State Line to Texarkana, Interstate 49 will follow U.S. 71, including a couple of "crossovers" over U.S. 71. Interstate 49 will pass by towns such as Doddridge, Fouke, and Mount Pleasant.
  • It will tie into the currently under-construction section (as of Summer 2000) of Arkansas State Route 245 (Future Interstate 130) right where State Route 245 makes a turn between going northeast and going straight west. This is about a half mile south of the current U.S. 71/Arkansas State Route 245 interchange. Interstate 49 will go east of Texarkana, utilizing most of Arkansas State Route 245. On January 10, 2001, the Arkansas Highway Department announced that the Arkansas Loop 245 limited access freeway will be designated as Interstate 130 upon completion of the highway from Interstate 30 to U.S. 71. According to the accompanying press release, "The 5.8-mile portion of Loop 245 from I-30 to U.S. Highway 71 in Texarkana will feature signs designating the highway as 'Future I-130' until the route is completed to full Interstate standards." Arkansas Highway Commissioner Mary P. "Prissy" Hickerson stated, "This Interstate Spur route will greatly enhance travel between I-30 and the industrial areas of Texarkana and would ultimately become a part of the overall route from Kansas City to Shreveport." This statement verifies that Interstate 130 (Arkansas 245) will ultimately become part of Interstate 49.
  • Between U.S. 67 and Interstate 30 (just south of Arkansas Boulevard), Interstate 49 will leave the Arkansas State Route 245 routing and swing east to a new interchange with Interstate 30 about 1.5 miles east of the existing Interstate 30/Arkansas State Route 245 interchange.
  • Interstate 49 will continue north of Interstate 30, cutting west. It crosses the Texas State Line about 3.5 miles north of Interstate 30, intersects the western Texarkana loop, and then heads northwest to cross the Red River. Total length in Texas will be about six miles.
  • It will bypass Ashdown and Wilton to the west. However, the new freeway will utilize the existing U.S. 59/71 "Miller's Crossing" of the Little River and its flood plain at Cossatot National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Cutting northwest in the vicinity of Lockesburg, Interstate 49 will intersect U.S. 59/70/71 (and maybe U.S. 371) about three miles east of DeQueen.
  • Between DeQueen and Mena, Interstate 49 generally stays east of U.S. 59/71, sometimes as much as 5.5 miles east, and nicks the western edge of that part of Ouachita National Forest south of Mena. Interchanges for the freeway are planned at Gillham, Grannis, U.S. 278/Wickes, Arkansas State Route 246/Vandervoort, West Mena, Arkansas State Route 8/Mena, and Arkansas State Route 88/Mena.
  • Interstate 49 will bypass Mena to the south and east.
  • North of Mena, Interstate 49 will use the existing U.S. 71/270 corridor going up Fourche Mountain. Not sure if it will use the roadbed itself or use a parallel roadbed going up the mountain ... that decision will probably not be made until the final design is completed - so for now, this is just speculation. There will be an interchange at the south end of Fourche Mountain, at County Route 70, before Interstate 49 makes the trip up with U.S. 71/270.
  • Heading back down the mountain on the north side, Interstate 49 will start off using the existing corridor, before dipping slightly southeast (the corridor runs southwest/northeast at this immediate point), but kicks back over to the west side of U.S. 71/270 where the U.S. routes make a sharp turn just west of Y City. There will be an interchange at this crossover.
  • North of U.S. 270, Interstate 49 stays generally west of U.S. 71, bypassing west of Boles and Waldron, but it crosses U.S. 71 twice over to the east side and bypasses Mansfield and Huntington to the east (going northwest here). It continues northwesterly up to Arkansas State Route 10, which it intersects about halfway between Hackett and U.S. 71. Interchanges planned at Arkansas State Route 80/Waldron, Arkansas State Route 378, U.S. 71/Mansfield, U.S. 71 (just north of Arkansas State Route 252), and Arkansas State Route 10. Also an interchange at Arkansas State Route 28 (between Arkansas State Route 80 and Arkansas State Route 378).
  • North of Arkansas State Route 10, Interstate 49 flows north, then intersects U.S. 71 one more time before turning northeast to go through Fort Chaffe. Interchanges are planned at U.S. 71, Custer Blvd (in Fort Chaffe) and Arkansas State Route 22.
  • North of Arkansa State Route 22, Interstate 49 curves more northerly, and crosses the Arkansas River almost straight north-south, then curves back northeasterly to east of Kibler, then back northwest to finish up at Interstate 40. Two interchanges are planned in this section: one just north of the river at Gun Club Road (a connector to Arkansas State Route 59) and the other at Kibler.
  • Just north of Kibler, Interstate 49 will tie into Interstate 540 directly.
  • From that point northward, Interstate 49 will replace Interstate 540 from Alma to Bentonville. It will intersect U.S. 412 (High Priority Corridor 8) at the proposed U.S. 412 Springdale Bypass.
  • U.S. 71 will be bypassed north of Bentonville around Bella Vista to carry Interstate 49 into Missouri. On July 10, 1999, the region's congressman and the state highway commissioner told local officials that if they want a bypass around the town of Bella Vista, they may have to wait until Interstate 49 is constructed. Local officials had hoped for better news, because they believe that the bypass to relieve present traffic congestion should not have to wait to be a part of a long-term freeway project like Interstate 49. The cost of the project, in 1999 dollars, is $186 million. Local politicians are unsure that they could secure this money without tying the bypass project to the Interstate 49 corridor.
  • The recommended alternative for the Bella Vista Bypass from the U.S. 71/U.S.71B interchange north to Pineville, Missouri, is the "Far West" alternative. From U.S. 71/U.S. 71B, it runs westerly to near Hiwasse, then gradually turns north to enter Missouri and intersect the planned section near Pineville. Interchanges are planned at County Route 39 (south Bella Vista), two interchanges at Arkansas State Route 72 (on either side of Hiwasse), County Route 34 (Bella Vista), Missouri State Route 90, and Route H.
  • The preferred alternative includes "short-term/interim" improvements, namely intersection improvements along existing U.S. 71 in Bella Vista and four-laning existing U.S. 71 between the Missouri State Line and Pineville.

Much of new construction for Interstate 49 will occur between Texarkana and Fort Smith. The cost of constructing this segment has been estimated at $1.8 billion (1999 dollars), according to a July 1999 newspaper article. More than a billion of this total is slated for the DeQueen to Interstate 40 section. This money was not appropriated in the TEA-21 bill of 1998, and it is unlikely that any other federal money will be tied to this project at least until 2003, which is the next year in which the federal highway bill comes up for discussion in Congress.

For more information, check out Build Interstate 49 (Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce), a pro-Interstate 49 site from Arkansas.

Texarkana Bypass

Around Texarkana, plans for the Interstate 49 project also include a western loop of Texarkana, utilizing the U.S. 59 freeway section and the south part of Interstate 130/Arkansas 245.

Scott Dennis saw the Interstate 130/Arkansas 245 construction project from his airplane in summer 1999. "The current construction project southeast of Texarkana is extending Arkansas 245. The construction goes south of the city, where there is a large interchange being built pointing southeast toward Louisiana, and then back west to Texas." The construction he saw is mostly related to the construction of this future Interstate 49 western bypass, which would enter Texas.

Funding for Interstate 49

It is unclear how Interstate 49 will be funded in Arkansas. Proposals have ranged from diverting money from existing projects to implementing tolls on the future Interstate.

In this excerpt from the July 8, 1999, edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article, "Lawmakers, commissioners tour route of proposed Interstate 49" by Doug Thompson, it is clear that politicians are very interested in completing Interstate 49 as soon as possible, perhaps at the expense of other proposed highways (such as Interstate 69). U.S. Representatives Asa Hutchinson of Fort Smith and Jay Dickey of Pine Bluff, three members of the state Highway Commission, and state Highway and Transportation Department Director Dan Flowers went on a bus tour of 170 miles of U.S. 71.

According to the article, "Some competition will be from supporters of a proposal to build Interstate 69 across south Arkansas, the commissioners and Dickey said. The best way to resolve the conflict is to get Interstate 49 done, Dickey said. "Then we can concentrate our full energies on Interstate 69," he said. For Interstate 49, environmental impact studies have been done, and the route has been selected, Flowers said. The highway would incorporate Interstate 540 between Fayetteville and Fort Smith. Interstate 49 would pick up where Interstate 540 ends at Fort Smith and would continue south to link with a similar project in Louisiana. Also, Interstate 540 would have to be extended north to Missouri. Cost of the project "from state line to state line" would be $1.8 billion, Flowers said."

Oklahoma has considerable experience with toll roads with its turnpike system. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette series of articles on Interstate 49, Arkansas State Highway Department financial analysts studied Oklahoma's experience closely. The analysts found that "tolls need to raise at least 60 percent of the total construction and maintenance costs over a 40-year period to be a better financing option than simply waiting and lobbying for federal money in the next highway bill. Tolls on parts of proposed Interstate 49 would, at best, raise 15 percent of the construction and maintenance costs in areas near Fort Smith and other towns. Tolls on the freeway as a whole would raise about three percent of the total needed, since traffic would avoid the road if tolls were raised too high. Tolls are able to raise enough money to maintain a road after it is built, Barnett said, but they are a poor means of raising the money to build one unless they are near a major city that generates very heavy traffic."

In the June 28, 2000, article "Highway panel raps I-49 funding plan," in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette by Noel E. Oman, the Interstate 49 Roadbuilders Coalition proposeda toll financing plan to the Arkansas State Highway Commission. In their study, the Roadbuilders Coalition indicated that a combination of bonds and loans financed partly by tolls could pay for construction of the Texarkana-to-Fort Smith section of Interstate 49. At that time, the state's share of the project was estimated to be around $106 million. Under the Roadbuilders Coalition plan, tolls would repay federal loans and bonds used to cover the difference.

The State Highway Commission indicated that the project would be $3.5 billion in the red over the life of its 40-year financing based on its analysis of the Roadbuilders Coalition Plan. This analysis was based on the notion that the Roadbuilders Coalition's toll-revenue projections reflected traffic estimates that assumed the route would be a toll-free route. If constructed as a toll facility, studies have shown that motorists avoid toll routes when free alternatives are required, so based on this information, the traffic counts would be lower than projected by the Coalition.

It is likely that the state will lobby heavily for Interstates 49 and 69 in the discussions related to the next transportation reauthorization bill, which is scheduled for 2003 (five years after TEA-21 of 1998).

Interstate 540

North of Fort Smith, Interstate 49 will follow the new Interstate (formerly Arkansas) 540 and U.S. 71 freeways. Although numerically it is close to the Interstate 540 spur in Fort Smith, it is almost certainly a temporary designation so Arkansas will not have to move the U.S. 71 designation onto the new road and then back off of it again.

Only Interstate 540 between north of Alma and Fayetteville along with the U.S. 71 bypass to Bella Vista is part of Corridor 1 and the proposed routing of Interstate 49. The original Interstate 540 from Van Buren to Ft. Smith is not part of the Interstate 49 corridor. Plans call for Interstate 49 to bypass Ft. Smith to the east near Alma, complete with a new bridge over the Arkansas River. AHTD says that the traffic count along Interstate 540 through Ft. Smith would be too great, and the new Interstate 49 would help alleviate the traffic problems created by the rapid eastward expansion of Fort Smith. Additionally, the original Interstate 540 is a four-lane freeway with little or no room for expansion. Connecting the original Interstate 540 to the future Interstate 49 in the south would require the expensive development of land at the south end to make a freeway extension.

Jeremy Lance took Interstate 540 just after it was signed in early January 1999. The first three exits north of Interstate 40 are for Arkansas 282. The first northbound exit is signed for U.S. 71 "Scenic Byway," although U.S. 71 is a couple of miles to the east at this point. As late as January 1999, a few stray Arkansas 540 signs remained in places, but they were gone (ity) before spring 1999. Jeremy remarks, "The tunnels are awesome! There are no warning signs of any kind, with the exception of one of those light up changeable signs, which was not lit up. The tunnels are very well lit, and probably a half-mile long. The mountains above the tunnels are not very high."

When Interstate 540 approaches Fayetteville, there is a seamless transition from the new road onto the old U.S. 71 bypass at Fayetteville. There is no exit to southbound U.S. 71 here. According to David Backlin, the "U.S. 71S" exit off southbound Interstate 540 has been changed to read U.S. 71.

AASHTO (The Association of American State Highway and Transportation Organizations) is responsible for the designation and signing of most Interstate and U.S. highways. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) petitioned AASHTO in late 1997 and early 1998 for permission to sign the Interstate (Arkansas) 540 construction as Interstate 49, but AASHTO rejected the petition. Since AHTD wanted this road to be part of the Interstate Highway System, AHTD petitioned AASHTO for permission to sign the road as a northern extension of Interstate 540 in 1998. As more segments of the U.S. 71 is completed, I suspect the Interstate 49 designation will be approved by AASHTO in the future.

Notably, Arkansas is becoming a crossroads for major highways, as it is the recipient of not only the U.S. 71 high priority corridor but also Interstate 69 and U.S. 412, if those projects go through.

Interstate 49 in Missouri

North of Fayetteville, Arkansas, Interstate 49 will roughly parallel U.S. 71. As noted in the Arkansas routing section, the Bella Vista/Pineville bypass will provide a new westerly alignment for Interstate 49. Current plans call for the section of the U.S. 71 freeway to be completed by 2005, earlier than the original 2007 estimated completion date. According to the Benton County Daily Record of January 12, 2002 ("U.S. 71 back on for 2005 wrap-up") by Glenda M. Locke, the completion date was accelerated as a result of cost cutting measures, such as elimination of an access road, a reduction in the size of the highway median, and lowering the height of some bridges. The new road will also provide access to a proposed large Wal-Mart distribution center.

This will connect to the currently under construction U.S. 71 freeway between Pineville and Joplin. In early 1997, U.S. 71 was rerouted over the former U.S. 71 Alternate freeway near Joplin. This segment, along with the remainder of the U.S. 71 freeway will become Interstate 49. Even if the west central Arkansas portion of Interstate 49 is not built, Missouri DOT plans to name the U.S. 71 freeway Interstate 49 between the Arkansas state line and Kansas City.

The U.S. 71 freeway/expressway between Joplin and Kansas City will be upgraded to Interstate standards. Along the existing U.S. 71 freeway, Interstate 49 will probably gain several business loops along the current Business U.S. 71 routings. This would follow standard procedure for such signing in Missouri.

According to Scott Dennis, at the Missouri Department of Transportation web site is information about their five-year plan, which includes construction in stages (two lanes first, then two more later) over the next several years of Missouri 249, a loop connecting Webb City/Carterville through Joplin to Interstate 44 (Items 7UO436,B,C,D,E, and F). Since Missouri uses "dependent" numbers (Missouri State Route 370 off Interstate 70 in St. Charles, Missouri State Route 364 for the Page Avenue extension to Interstate 64 in St. Charles County, Missouri State Route 360 for the freeway connector from Interstate 44 to U.S. 60 in Springfield) regularly, could this be an indicator that Interstate 49 is indeed coming? (Also, Interstate 49 is mentioned in the TEA-21 Fiscal Year 1999 funding.)

In the Kansas City metropolitan area, the corridor would include the segments of the new U.S. 71 freeway and expressway now under construction or proposed. This roadway, called Watkins Drive, would run from Interstate 435 north to Interstate 70. The part that is completed, from Interstate 435 north to U.S. 56 (Swope Parkway) is to interstate specifications as far as 75th Street, then is expressway grade from there north to U.S. 56 (some stoplights, but multi-lane divided). This freeway is under constant attack by local groups and is not necessarily guaranteed, regardless of its status as a high priority corridor. The Missouri highway department thought about building an interchange at one of the at-grade intersections (Gregory Boulevard), but community protest ended that idea quickly. I suspect this idea will surface again.

Interstate Aspirations and NHS/ISTEA/TEA-21 Funding

AASHTO has not yet agreed on what to call this corridor, but it seems very likely it will be an Interstate highway. As noted above, it seems likely that this road would be a logical candidate for a northerly extension of Interstate 49, but there have been reports that AASHTO has not decided on an official designation yet. The decision not to call Arkansas 540 as "Interstate 49" reflects this trend. AASHTO -- who designates Interstate highway numbers -- may also call this corridor Interstate 29, determine a new numbering, or even leave it as U.S. 71.

As an aside, if it is called Interstate 29, then it will end the age-old debate about exactly where that highway's southern terminus is. (The "END Interstate 29" signs are at The Paseo exit just north of the Interstate 70 junction.)

According to Dave Schul, a contact at MoDOT says that once U.S. 71 is completed from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Kansas City, Missouri, it will be given the Interstate 49 designation, whether or not the Texarkana, Texas, to Ft. Smith, Arkansas, stretch is ever built. The Ft. Smith - Joplin section (Interstate/Arkansas 540; U.S. 71 freeway) is under construction right now, partially funded by High Priority Corridor Appropriation Item 3 (only a paltry $3.6 million for "improvement of North-South Corridor along U.S. 71 in Southwestern Missouri").

Additional funding for the North-South Corridor is as follows: $100 million for construction of U.S. 71 between Fayetteville and Alma in Arkansas (High Priority Appropriation Item 14), $70 million for construction of U.S. 71 from Alma to the Louisiana border in Arkansas and Texas (High Priority Appropriation Item 15), $29.6 million for construction the Louisiana segment of the corridor from Shreveport north to the Arkansas border and for miscellaneous state-wide projects (High Priority Appropriation Item 21), and $3 million for studying bypass alternatives for U.S. 71 around Bella Vista, Arkansas, near the Missouri border (Rural Access Item 51).

Page Updated June 9, 2002.