It won’t be long until travelers on Interstate 70 may begin feeling the effects of expansion and construction across the state. The 2023 General Assembly allocated a record $2.8 billion for I-70 improvements and widening to three lanes in each direction from Blue Springs to Wentzville, approximately 200 miles of roadway. Governor Mike Parson signed the transportation appropriation. And construction should begin on the first leg of the project in early to mid-2024.
Ed Hassinger, Deputy Director of the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), recently said the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission and MoDOT have been looking at I-70 improvements for the last two decades. Unfortunately, several gas tax increase opportunities were rejected along with the rejection of making I-70 a toll road. “We have been in a mode of just keeping up with the existing, 1,400 miles of Missouri interstate,” he said. But with the recent advent of funding from the federal level and an increase in the state fuel tax, things have changed.
Hassinger said I-70, the oldest interstate in Missouri having been constructed beginning in 1956, has the highest need of any interstate. “We worked with the public and local planning commissions to determine what needs there are, and we need to add a third lane.” Hassinger said the current plan is to take care of I-70, with I-44 on the heels of the I-70 project, then I-55.
Hassinger said MoDOT is and has been improving I-70 with the best quality products and taking care of repairing or replacing poor bridges and poor pavement. Adding a lane in each direction of I-70 will be done in a 500-ft. wide right-of-way at the cost estimate of $2.8 billion based on limited purchase of expanded right-of-way. “We’re not going to tear out perfectly good pavement,” Hassinger said, and teams working on the project hope to keep traffic moving in each direction during construction. New bridges and those constructed in the past few years on I-70 have been built to accommodate three lanes in each direction, Hassinger said.
MoDOT in September completed meetings across the I-70 corridor to hear from residents. “We’re planning to pursue this in sections with the first section from Columbia I-70/63 connector east to Kingdom City, using the design-build process,” he said. The full project is expected to take five to seven years until completion.
Hassinger also said the Highway Commission has applied for $299 million in federal grant funds for the I-70 project to add utility corridors for broadband, connect some outer roads across the state, and provide safety enhancements to the project. It is unknown at this time if the federal grant request will be approved.
During a mid-September legislative hearing in Jefferson City, Eric Schroeter, Assistant Chief Engineer for MoDOT, and Eric Kopinski, Improve I-70 Director, continued Hassinger’s review of the I-70 project. Kopinski listed four elements of the project:
- MoDOT has made the determination to lead the program with inter-departmental staff, a centralized group, along with three different teams in Kansas City, St. Louis, and in central Missouri.
- An attempt to leverage the state funds by submitting the aggressive federal grant request of $299 million. The $2.8 billion will be used as a match.
- The public engagement aspect as MoDOT went on a “roadshow” to seven communities to explain the project to residents along I-70 and explain how to contact MoDOT for information. Information and updates are on the MoDOT website, MoDOT Facebook, in the news media, and MoDOT is reaching out to the trucking industry. It is an attempt to keep everyone notified, so no one is surprised.
- Kopinski said the first project (one of six sections) will be from the I-70/63 connector in east Columbia to Kingdom City. The contract for this 20-mile section is expected to be awarded in February 2024, followed by a new contract letting every six months for future sections. The second section of the project is expected to be Warrenton to Wentzville. The entire project is expected to be completed by December 2030.
Each of the six sections will be 20 to 50 miles in length, and the contract values will be from $300 million to $600 million. MoDOT plans to select an initial shortlist of design-build teams soon for the Columbia to Kingdom City section. The budget ceiling for the first project section is $405 million. Schroeter said by using a design-build option for the project, it will help to maintain traffic during construction, which is vital to commerce and industry.
The MoDOT team noted that dividing the project into six sections will allow for better monitoring of costs and possible effects of inflation.
Further information about the I-70 widening project may be found at https://www.modot.org/improvei70/home .