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A crash on the Missouri River bridge over I-70 near Columbia shut down west-bound traffic for over six hours in June. Photo: MoDot

Work to widen I-70 from Kansas City to St. Louis set to begin this summer

Relief is on the way for drivers tired of the heavy traffic on Interstate 70 between Kansas City and St. Louis. Work on the long-awaited widening of the 200-mile stretch will begin this summer.

The state is the birthplace of the cross-country I-70 system, having broke ground on Aug. 13, 1956 near St. Charles. That also makes it the oldest.

Fatality data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveals I-70 in Missouri is ranked the ninth deadliest interstate, with 134 deaths in 2020.

Now that Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has signed off on the plan, billions of dollars will be spent over the coming years to improve the major interstate which is one of the busiest in the nation.

“We’re actually kind of behind other states in the investment into the interstate system, the reconstruction and expansion of it,” said Patrick McKenna, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation Patrick. “Instead of taking 30 years and piecemealing it, let’s take advantage of this time and get the entire project done.

“Between the environmental work and design, that’s about a two-year window and then construction is about four to five years. You’re looking at a total of about seven years for the entire thing and we’re looking for ways where we can accelerate that.”

McKenna said this year’s budget is the largest amount of money the department has ever received, and it’s being used to make big investments like the nearly $3 billion being spent to add an extra lane on I-70 from Wentzville to Blue Springs.  “It’s really a reflection of 30 years of deferred maintenance,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of work going on, starting this summer, it’s just that we won’t be widening right away.”

Drivers can expect to see construction in some areas by next summer, but before that, the department has to reevaluate the environmental study that was done back in 2005. “You have to look at current conditions, what are the current impacts, different structures have been built and there have been communities that have changed,” McKenna said.

The new bridge over the Missouri River just west of Columbia, already reflects the addition of new lanes and overpasses being rebuilt are also taking the additional lanes into consideration.

The goals outlined by the state Highway department include:

  • Roadway Capacity—Increase roadway capacity to improve the general operating conditions and reliability of I-70.
  • Traffic Safety—Reduce the number and severity of traffic-related crashes occurring along I-70 across the state.
  • Roadway Design Features—Upgrade roadway design features along I-70, including interchanges, roadway alignment and roadway cross sections.
  • System Preservation—Preserve the I-70 facility through continued and ongoing rehabilitation and maintenance activities of pavement and bridges.
  • Goods Movement—Improve the efficiency of freight movement on I-70.
  • Access to Recreational Facilities—Facilitate motorist use of nearby regional facilities through improved accessibility.
  • National Security— Maintain the important role the I-70 corridor plays in the nation’s defenses.

While crews are widening I-70, MoDOT was also given money to start surveying another major interstate.

“I-44 in its total is probably three times the size of I-70 in terms of financial scale,” McKenna said. “It’s much longer in terms of the mileage and the terrain is more challenging, but it has become a really vital freight corridor.”

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice

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