JOPLIN, MO.--- The black sign coverings along former U.S. Highway 71 are finally coming down today. Interstate 49 is a 180 mile stretch of highway from Kansas City to Pineville that transportation officials are certain will be monumental for growth in Western Missouri.
"This region can now point access to one more interstate. So when businesses want to relocate, one of the first things they are going to ask is, do we have access to interstate," states Victor Mendez, Federal Highway Administrator.
Now that answer is clearly yes.
"Its great for our economy, its great for job creation which is what should be the number one domestic priority in the country today," states Roy Blunt, U.S. Senator.
Leaders expect the area to grow significantly as a result of this upgraded roadway. Joplin city leaders say it's right in line with the city's rebuilding efforts.
"We're looking for rebuilding, we are looking for relocation, and this is the time for those companies to come in and get where they want to be. They now have the access to get their product in and out of Joplin," states Melodee Colbert-Kean, Joplin Mayor.
In addition to these long term benefits, having this new interstate will also be safer for travelers.
"We have upgraded to an interstate standard, so traveling on the interstate is actually going to be much safer. We added some overpasses and upgraded the on and off ramps," states Mendez.
These upgrades to meet interstate standards cost nearly $315 million. Almost $252 million was paid for with federal funds.
"We were able to get this in the 1997 Highway Bill as a national priority, which helped in every other argument," states Senator Blunt.
Today, after decades of hard work, thousands of travelers each day can now enjoy Interstate 49.
"They are very rare, they don't happen everyday. Here in Missouri, from what I gather, you have done it twice in the past 40 or 50 years. So it doesn't happen everyday," states Mendez.
According to MODOT, more than 16,000 drivers use this route each day. That number is expected to nearly double in the next 20 years.