By Wally Kennedy
After decades of planning and construction — with a few bumps along the way — Missouri Highway 249 opened Monday with a parade of vehicles.
Becky Baltz, head of the regional office of the Missouri Department of Transportation in Joplin, said district engineers viewed the $78 million undertaking “as a project of a lifetime, and many of them waited a lifetime” to see it to completion.
Highway 249, also known as the Range Line bypass, has 16 bridges, including one that is 75 feet high and the length of five football fields. The 6.2-mile stretch was built to interstate standards from Interstate 44, southeast of Joplin, to Missouri Highway 171 at Carterville. It has three interchanges and a fourth in the works for 17th Street at Webb City.
Baltz introduced a number of speakers, including Brad Belk, director of the Joplin Museum Complex; Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce; state Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin; and U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Belk said the Joplin area has a long history of being a leader in transportation, pointing to John Malang, a Joplin resident who was appointed in 1919 as the first superintendent of state highways. Malang advanced the “Lift Missouri Out of the Mud” campaign and helped get a 2-cent sales tax on gasoline to finance a highway system.
As head of the Joplin Special Road District, he spearheaded construction of the first concrete road in Missouri, a seven-mile stretch from Webb City to Joplin and then to the state line with Kansas. Chat, a byproduct of the lead and zinc mining in Southwest Missouri, was used to construct the road. Completed in 1918, it later would become part of Route 66, which would expose Southwest Missouri to the rest of the nation.
O’Brian noted the contribution of Joplin resident Mel Walbridge, a longtime advocate of the bypass. He said he remembered an early conversation about the importance, for safety reasons, of getting truck traffic off Range Line Road in Joplin and Madison Street in Webb City.
By Wally Kennedy
- Joplin Metro
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