Funding to improve I-44 in Jasper County survives state budget process

May 13—State funding for Interstate 44 upgrades in Jasper County and in other parts of Missouri survived the legislative budget process. It now heads to Gov. Mike Parson's desk.

The Missouri House of Representatives and Senate passed the state's $51.7 billion budget before the constitutionally mandated deadline last Friday.

Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, the House Budget Committee chairman, said the proposal from the House to include $727.5 million for improvements to I-44 survived the process intact. In the proposal, half that money would come from the state's general revenue fund and half from new state debt.

The proposal outlined by Smith at a news conference held at Joplin's CFI trucking headquarters in March included about $291 million to widen I-44 to six lanes between the I-44 and I-49 interchange at Fidelity and the I-44/I-49/Missouri 249 interchange, and to rebuild the Fidelity interchange from its current cloverleaf design to flyovers with bridges connecting eastbound and westbound I-44 to northbound I-49.

The cost to widen I-44 between the two interchanges also includes replacing two bridges over Grove Creek and is projected at $116 million. The two flyover bridges are expected to cost $79.3 million for the eastbound I-44 to northbound I-49 bridge, and $95.8 million for the southbound I-49 to east-bound I-44 bridge.

That would leave two bridges connecting I-44 to Missouri Highway 59 south of Fidelity for construction at a later date.

"We've got that piece, and we've got many other additional pieces to complete some projects that have been a long time coming and to work on some major improvements statewide," Smith said in a telephone interview Monday with the Globe. "Overall, it was a very good year for infrastructure investments in Missouri."

In 2023, the state approved about $3 billion to widen I-70 across Missouri to six lanes and make improvements to a number of interchanges.

Smith and Parson have said throughout the year that they would like to see the state start working on widening I-44 from St. Louis to the Oklahoma state line.

Parson said in his State of the State address in January he wanted to use savings created by federal grants and interest earned on money put aside for projects on I-70 to jump-start the I-44 widening.

Parson's office said on Monday it can't comment on whether the governor, who has the power to veto items line by line, would keep I-44 funding.

"We won't comment until the governor takes action on any pending legislation and especially the budget," said Johnathan Shifflet, deputy communications director and press secretary for Parson. "The Legislature has changed it a lot, and we have an extensive review process when it comes to all legislation including the budget."

Smith said he thought the project "fit very well into his agenda."

"Transportation infrastructure and workforce development have been his two big items — his focus as governor — and certainly this fits very well into that agenda," Smith said. "So I'm hopeful he'll find that we have situated this in such a way that we can afford to make these improvements and now is the time to make these major investments."

Another project in Jasper County that received funding in the final budget was widening Route N east of I-49 to add shoulders to the road.

Smith said he and Rep. Ann Kelley, R-Lamar, pushed for that project as a safety improvement to a rural road that sees a lot of truck traffic.

Kelley said the budget includes $2.2 million for the project.