By Wally Kennedy
Billy Street’s family has lived at County Road 180 and Apple Road for more than 45 years.
“My house is next to my parents’ house. I grew up there,” Street said. “Our whole lives have been built right there. That could all be going away.”
The Streets and about 10 other families live where County Road 180 comes to a dead end at Interstate 44. The planned construction of an $85 million pet food plant in the nearby Crossroads Center Business and Distribution Park could transform that dead end into a busy interchange on the interstate.
“They won’t officially say it yet, but they want to put a road right through my living room,” Street said.
Street and others believe County Road 190, also known as Prigmore Avenue, would be a better location for the interchange. For some time, residents of that area, and even city officials in Duenweg, have presumed that County Road 190, which is one mile farther west, was the preferred choice for an interchange since it goes through the industrial park.
“Far fewer homes would be affected on 190, and it’s more of a direct link to the interstate from the industrial park,” Street said. “There’s already a bridge over the interstate there. There is no bridge at 180.
“Because of the houses that will have to be relocated, I think it will be more costly to do 180 than 190.”
During a recent meeting attended by 70 to 80 people, officials with the Missouri Department of Transportation said both county roads have been identified as a possible site for the interchange and that no decision has been made about the preferred choice.
Dan Salisbury, assistant district engineer with MoDOT, said: “We are in the earliest stages of this. We have reached out to engage the public to get the maximum input about how that project takes shape.
“All we have done is engage them and ask them for their input. We know there is a lot of concern, and we know that they think we have already made up our minds. We have not. We need a lot more information.”
Those attending the meeting were told that County Road 180 was included because County Road 190 might be too close to the Highway 249 interchange to receive approval from the Federal Highway Administration.
“Its proximity to Route 249 is a big factor,” Salisbury said. “The Federal Highway Administration will have to approve this. Even if we choose it, it will still be a factor until they approve it.”
Justin Forest, who lives on County Road 180 between Apple Road and East 32nd Street, also known as Route FF, said he worries about property values, as well as truck traffic and the possibility that County Road 180 will become a three-lane road from East 32nd Street to the interstate.
“We are worried about MoDOT acquiring our houses through eminent domain and relocating us,” he said. “I don’t feel it is fair. There’s nobody in support of this that I’m aware of.”
Forest said those attending the meeting were told that no decision has been made about which road would be favored for the interchange.
“They said, ‘We haven’t made a decision,’ that they still had to do a bridge analysis and a cost analysis,” he said. “I think the people who attended that meeting got the sense that they wanted to build an overpass on 180 and that they were hiding behind this cost analysis. They’re not interested in County Road 190.
“I’m upset because they committed our land to get this deal — to get this pet food plant.”
“We have $10 million in funding to improve access from Joplin’s Crossroads industrial park to Interstate 44,” Salisbury said. “There is a direct relationship to the Blue Buffalo pet food plant.
“In the negotiation to decide where the plant would go, the project became contingent on improving access to the industrial park,” he said, noting that Joplin officials identified a need for additional interstate access to the park more than 15 years ago.
“This is making that need a reality,” he said. “Funding was approved by MoDOT’s innovative finance committee because of the job creation component.”
The company, in order to get that commitment, promised to create 150 high-paying jobs when it announced its plans for the plant last month.
The plant, which will produce 30 million pounds of pet food per month, will be visited by 85 trucks per day, company officials have said. The interchange is to be constructed by 2015, when the plant opens.
Open to ideas
Another resident in the area, Richard Volk, owns a farm between county roads 180 and 190.
“It’s going to happen one way or the other,” he said. “I attended that meeting, and they talked for the longest time about the process, and there seemed to be an abbreviated discussion of the location that was toward 180. There was not much discussion about 190.
“I would rather see 190 as the location because with 180 you will have a lot of roadway to build. That’s a county road. It’s not a road for heavy truck traffic.”
Volk said an interchange on 180 could affect 12 to 15 families. An interchange on 190 would affect three or four families, and a church.
The existing bridge over the interstate at 190 was damaged recently when it was struck by a large implement. Part of the metal support for the bridge was bent.
“It took two months of continuous work to get it back in shape,” Volk said. “We have been told that bridge will need to be replaced. So, why not replace that bridge as part of a new interchange instead of building two bridges?”
Volk said there has been some talk about 180 being MoDOT’s preference because it also would create a direct access from the interstate to the former Atlas Powder Co. property, which is north of the interstate. That area, he said, could be a future site for an industrial park.
Russell Olds, mayor of Duenweg, said: “There’s no question in my mind that’s part of somebody’s long-range plan. An interchange on 180 would be a straight line to Route AA and the gate of the Atlas plant.
“It’s a pretty short leap to make that connection.”
Salisbury said no one has advised MoDOT about the location of the interchange in connection with the Atlas property.
Olds, noting that Duenweg was not notified about the meeting with residents, said: “We have been under the impression for the last 10 years that the new interchange would be at 190. Now, out of the blue, 180 is being surveyed and identified.
“It will benefit us no matter where they put it. And, it could create complications for us either way. When these things happen, you have two choices: You prepare for it, or you get run over by it.”
Salisbury said: “We are looking at all those factors now. We don’t want to close the door on or abandon any idea. We’ll chase down all of the ideas, and we’ll see what is the most cost-effective with the fewest public impacts. If we did not do that, we would not be responsible stewards of the taxpayers’ money. Some of these options will look less appealing and be eliminated.
“Our goal was to talk to them first so that they would have the maximum input. We have heard their concerns about County Road 180. I know they are anxious, which is understandable.”
STATE TRANSPORTATION OFFICIALS will have their next meeting with residents of the area at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at East Middle School, temporarily located in the Crossroads Center Business and Distribution Park.