Driving on freeways has become a part of city life in Springfield. The very first highway of its kind built through town was I-44. Eventually joining the mix was U.S. 60 and U.S. 65. Both routes are practically interstate highways in everything except their names, but that could change.
The City of Springfield is spearheading efforts to re-designate James River Freeway (Missouri 360 and U.S. 60), and part of U.S. 65 as Interstate 244. The route would create a continuous interstate-highway-designated loop circling the city
“I think, after we look over the next 10 or 20 years, we will see a lot of business development along that corridor,” said Missouri Department of Transportation assistant district engineer Dan Salisbury.
MoDOT says an interstate designation is a powerful branding tool that could attract new businesses and companies to Springfield.
“It tells them that we are growing; we have a new interstate,” said Sara Fields, executive director of Ozarks Transportation Organization (OTO).
“It opens up a lot of business opportunities that would not be there otherwise, and I think that is the benefit to the community,” Salisbury said.
It could make travel easier, especially during detours around incidents on I-44. Right now, drivers are told to take Missouri 360, to U.S. 60, to U.S. 65, or vice versa. According to planners, the instruction of 'take I-244' may sound a lot less confusing for out-of-towners.
“I think people, truck drivers, generally understand an interstate designation as a detour,” Field said.
MoDOT says the job wouldn’t be too complex. It would entail supplementing the current signs designating U.S. 60 and U.S. 65 with new I-244 shields. It might also require lengthening some of the on- and off-ramps in a few spots.
Planners say the project could be done for as little as $500,000, and likely no more than $2 million.
“The expense will be pretty minimal for what we feel the value will be,” Fields said.
MoDOT estimates it would take two to three years to complete the project. It would require applying for federal approval for the designation change.
The City of Springfield, MoDOT, and OTO will gather public input on the project in the coming weeks. A forum is set for next Wednesday (Nov. 20) at 1:30 p.m. at the Holland Building, Suite 212, on Park Central Square East.