Missouri’s long-awaited I-70 expansion project begins near Columbia

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Construction on Interstate 70 begins Monday in Columbia. The $2.8 billion project is expected to be finished by 2030 (Sarah Voyles/Missourian).

BY: GRACE BURWELL

Construction crews began work Monday night on an ambitious $2.8 billion project that will expand Interstate 70 to three lanes across Missouri.

Crews are first tackling a stretch from Route J at Millersburg to Route M at Hatton, 7 miles of a 20-mile section that will ultimately add a third lane in each direction from Columbia to Kingdom City.

The overnight schedule is designed to minimize traffic disruptions as the highway work progresses from the center of the state to other portions at the east and west ends of the highway.

The project’s first 20-mile section is expected to be completed by the end of 2027. Subsequent phases include improving stretches of highway from Warrenton to Wentzville and from Blue Springs to Odessa. The entire project is expected to be finished by 2030.

Road crews will first close the westbound lane from 7 p.m. to 6 p.m. nightly to lay new asphalt that will strengthen the highway shoulders, said the state’s Improve I-70 central project director, Jeff Gander.

When that portion is done, the eastbound lane will be closed to traffic. Estimated completion is this summer.

“After they get that shoulder-strengthening done, they’re going to re-stripe the highway to push traffic more toward the outsides, and then they’ll be setting barrier wall all along the inside to barrier off the median so we can perform our work in there,” Gander said.

In addition to adding a third lane each way to the 20 miles between the U.S. 63 and U.S. 54 exits, crews will improve the intersections of U.S. 63 and I-70 in Columbia and between U.S. 54 and I-70 in Kingdom City.

Missouri Department of Transportation plans to begin working on the U.S. 63-Interstate-70 connector this summer, while construction on U.S. 54 will likely not start until 2025, Gander said.

A St. Charles-based contractor, Millstone Weber, was selected to do the first section, which has a $405 million price tag. The contractor intends to avoid impacting local traffic by keeping two lanes open during construction at all times, with the exception of some temporary closures at night.

“What we have committed to for this project is to keep two lanes of I-70 flowing at all peak times, which means during the day,” he said. “There’s a good possibility that they will have a lane closed at night, both eastbound and westbound at the same time.”

MoDOT did preliminary work ahead of Monday’s construction, including pavement coring, as well as subsurface boring where some of the structures will go to prepare for the design.

Since the initiative is a design-build project, highway improvement happens incrementally, Gander said. In this kind of project, the full design plans are completed while the project is underway.

“When we actually award this contract, we don’t have full design plans — we have plans that are probably at, say, 30 percent complete,” Gander said. “Right now, they are hot-and-heavy working on fully designing the rest of the project.”

The project has been on MoDOT’s unfunded agenda for almost 20 years and is the largest interstate construction program since the early 1960s. The expanded highway portion will run from Blue Springs in Jackson County to Wentzville in St. Charles County.

More than 40,000 vehicles travel between Kansas City and St. Louis each day. A third lane will allow for emergency vehicles to access crashes faster and with less traffic back-up, keeping drivers safer and less frustrated, according to MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna in an earlier Missourian report.

Due to the significant highway construction happening around Columbia during the next few years, Gander said it is important for people to pay attention while driving.

Distracted driving is the main issue that highway construction workers must deal with, he said.

“When this project gets really rolling, and we have all the different areas that we’re working on, we could have upwards of around 300 people out there working on a day-to-day basis, including our prime contractor and our subcontractors,” he said.

“Our goal is for everybody to go home safe, so we really need the public’s help for that.”

This story originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian. It can be republished in print or online.