Thanks to the work of previous generations, modernizing transportation in America doesn't always mean starting from scratch. Existing infrastructure often gives us a great springboard to leverage as we work to develop a true 21st century transportation network to support a thriving 21st century economy.
And that's what we've been able to do in Missouri, where the State DOT and local communities have transformed much of US Route 71 into the latest segment of Interstate 49, an important north-south freight highway. Once work in Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana is complete, the uninterrupted I-49 will stretch more than 1,600 miles and will significantly improve freight movement through the central United States from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
Yesterday, Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez was in Joplin to celebrate the I-49 redesignation. There, he saw how this transformation of Highway 71 is more than just a road project; it's the symbol of a community healing after the devastation of one of the worst tornadoes in US history. The strength of the Joplin community--torn apart by tragedy 18 months ago--was reaffirmed yesterday at East Joplin Middle School where parents, students, neighbors, local and state officials gathered for the opening of a stronger tie between Joplin and the rest of the state, the nation, and the world.
And in talking about the opportunities opened up by this project, he really hit the nail on the head:
"Every time we open a new section of the Interstate Highway System, we add another link to the incredible network that ties this nation together. That’s very important as we look to create jobs, increase trade and continue the economic recovery that added 146,000 jobs last month and lowered the unemployment rate to the lowest level in four years."
He's exactly right. This transformation has put people to work rebuilding the roadway to interstate standards--including expanded capacity and improved safety features--but in the years to come will strengthen the economy by helping freight move more easily from the Midwest to markets worldwide.
This is good news for farmers and businesses in the Show-Me State as well as other states along this critical corridor. It's also good news for the communities near the newly designated interstate highway.
As Mark Elliff, president of the Carthage Chamber of Commerce said, “Any time you get a designation upgrade to interstate, it is an automatic plus. It raises the profile for the whole region.”
Neosho Mayor Richard Davidson agrees: “Neosho will continue to promote and support economic development projects that capitalize on the new I-49 designation.”
And, in line with this Department's number one priority, the roadway improvements are also good news for the thousands of motorists and truck drivers traveling this route in greater safety each day.
Better freight movement, less congestion, improved safety. That's what President Obama had in mind when he called us to work toward an America built to last. That's what this DOT has been doing for the past four years. And that's what we'll continue to do.