By Wally Kennedy
Globe Staff Writer
Participants in today’s unveiling of the nation’s newest addition to the interstate highway system — Interstate 49 from Pineville to Kansas City — said they felt like they were “making history.’’
That history was 50 years in the making, according to U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R. Mo., who spoke at the unveiling ceremony in the gymnasium of Joplin East Middle School.
“This is now a great moment for our state — and for the western part of the state,’’ he said.
Noting that he had worked with legislative colleagues in Arkansas and Louisiana to keep the Interstate 49 project alive with earmark spending, Blunt said, “What was a national priority has become a national reality.’’
Also speaking was Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez who toured Joplin’s tornado zone before the unveiling ceremony.
“I am honored to be here today. It’s really amazing what you have done in a year and a half,’’ he said, noting that Joplin’s recovery, like the transition of U.S. Highway 71 into Interstate 49, is an example of what can happen when people work together in partnerships.
That partnership, he said, is continuing with the recent announcement of $12 million in federal highway TIGER grants to Joplin for the construction of overpasses.
The upgrade of U.S. Highway 71 to Interstate 49 in Missouri cost $313 million. The federal contribution was $250 million, he said.
Also today and through the rest of the week, Missouri Department of Transportation and contractor crews will be uncovering and turning I-49 signs in every county along the corridor from Kansas City to Pineville.