FORT SCOTT, Kan. — Opening of a new four-lane section of U.S. 69 was celebrated Monday, leaving slightly more than 11 miles of construction to do in Bourbon County to extend the widened expressway from Pittsburg to Kansas City.

State and area officials cut a ribbon Monday morning near the Calvary Road intersection in observance of completion of nearly 6 miles of four-lane expandable expressway that started at the Crawford-Bourbon county line and was extended to divided four-lane at Fort Scott.

The $21.8 million project added two lanes to the existing U.S. 69 alignment and added intersections at Arrowhead, Birch, Cavalry, Deer and Fern roads. The project is part of the T-WORKS transportation program.

Koss Construction of Topeka was the primary contractor.

That section continues to be posted as a work zone with a 55 mph speed limit at this time, but that could change later this week when it is expected to cleared for posting it as a 65 mph zone, according to Priscilla Petersen, public affairs manager for the Southeast Kansas district of the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Blake Benson, president of the Pittsburg Chamber of Commerce, said the completion puts Crawford County on lists of locations for prospective new business and industry.

"In addition to making Highway 69 safer and more convenient for local residents to travel, it also will have an impact on economic development," Benson said.

When economic development prospects look for a place to locate, the first question they ask is, "Are you located on a four-lane highway? And for far too long we've had to say 'no,'" Benson said.

"That's because in the first round in an economic development search, they are not really looking for where they want to go but they are looking for communities to cross off the list," he said. "It gets Pittsburg off the list before we can even show what we can do. We can now say 'yes' because we are that close to having a four-lane today."

Petersen said there will be two more extensions to four lanes coming up to complete the widened highway from Pittsburg north to Kansas City.

Bids will be sought in September for a 6.1-mile section of four-lane expressway that will stretch to 3 miles north of Arma. Construction of it should begin in spring 2020.

In the fall of 2020, KDOT will bid out the second expansion of 5.5 miles. That section will go from 3 miles north of Arma to the Bourbon-Crawford county line.

She said that will complete four-lane highway from Pittsburg. There is still a section of U.S. 69 south of Pittsburg to Baxter Springs that has not been widened. That piece is under study but there is no schedule yet for when it will be built.

Work on the newly expanded stretch began in 2017. The total cost of the expansion across Bourbon County is expected to be $57.4 million, which includes the cost of the section opened Monday.