By Wally Kennedy
PINEVILLE, Mo. — It’s not the same as a shuttle launch, but everything’s “a go” for the opening today of the last remaining segment of the new U.S. Highway 71 in McDonald County.
“It’s gonna happen,” said Steve Campbell, project manager for the Missouri Department of Transportation. “At 10 a.m. (today), we will stop everyone from entering the project from any direction. At 10:15 a.m., we will lead them through, and that will open the new highway.”
A meeting with local law-enforcement officials was held Tuesday to review traffic control.
When the highway opens, motorists will see firsthand how much limestone was blasted away through a hilly stretch west and south of Pineville. Excavation for the 5.5-mile segment involved 5.3 million cubic yards of material. For motorists coming from the south, it will appear that they are traveling through a canyon of dark-gray stone. Several cuts are in the 100-foot range.
The $46 million project, which started in June 2005, will wrap up later this year.
Though the new highway bypasses Pineville, the trade-off is a safer road, said Mayor Dawayne Lasiter. He also said the city has received inquiries about property around the new highway.
“Some of the inquiries we have had about the land will not impact us that much,” he said. “The growth will be out around the new highway, but it will still help our area.”
The city is attempting to annex a large portion of the new highway south of Pineville near Wolf Den Road.
“What will definitely help us out a bunch is when the new highway takes the truck traffic out of Pineville, other than local deliveries,” Lasiter said. “There have been wrecks involving big trucks at H and K highways, and at the light there at the Elk River bridge. This will reduce our traffic accidents along there tremendously.”
Mike Jones, manager of the Country Market, said: “It’s dangerous. It’s unsafe to make a left turn into the market. The new highway will take the semis out of here, and that’s no loss because we don’t stop any semis here.”
Jones said he is aware of the economic downturn that happened at Anderson when the new highway bypassed that town. But the towns are different. Anderson had more of a developed commercial strip than Pineville.
“About half of our business is a convenience store and grocery store,” Jones said. “So, maybe it will be a wash. We’ll trade gas business for grocery business. We do that every winter anyway.
“We have people who shop here in the winter, but in the summer we don’t see them because it’s too dangerous for them to buy groceries here. We instead get a lot of business from six campgrounds that are near here.”
Since the IGA store on Pineville’s square closed, the Country Market is the only grocery store in Pineville. The next closest grocery store is the Wal-Mart Supercenter at Jane.
Last-minute preparations for the opening of the highway were being completed as late as the middle of last week, Campbell said.
“They were putting the rumble strips and stripes on,” he said. “They worked a lot of hours to get that accomplished. There are a few little details they are currently ironing out.
“All will go well if people can give us the 15 minutes to get everything moved and in place. Be patient, drive smart and enjoy your new highway.”
An official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new segment of U.S. Highway 71 will take place at 1 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at the Mountain Ridge of Pineville development. The site is above the highway, and participants can see the highway in operation.
By Wally Kennedy
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