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Business leaders mixed reactions to I-70 expansion through Columbia

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During a ceremonial signing of the Interstate 70 expansion funding, business leaders in Columbia expressed mixed opinions on the project's potential economic impact.

Gov. Mike Parson ceremoniously signed the bill funding the expansion of Interstate 70 on Tuesday afternoon on The Loop in Columbia. The location behind Parkade Plaza is meant to advantageously show off I-70 as it runs through Columbia.

This year, Missouri lawmakers put $2.8 billion toward expanding Interstate 70 across the state. The funding comes out of the state's general revenue. This is more than what Parson originally recommended in his State of the State address in January, which was just enough to add an extra lane in Columbia and the suburban areas of St. Louis and Kansas City.

It will take between five and seven years to complete construction, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The governor created this plan to expand I-70 to show the state's potential for economic growth. However, some in the business community are worried it may actually hurt a few businesses.

Lily White with the Columbia Chamber of Commerce said she worked with legislators to ensure Columbia got a piece of the I-70 expansion.

"Our business community, both. It needs workers to be able to get here safely, but also their supplies to get in and out of the city as safely and quickly as possible,"

Carrie Gartner with The Loop express several concerns about the project to ABC 17. Gartner asked where the land to build the extra lanes will come from, will it come from local businesses? She also questioned whether an extra lane will encourage people to bypass Columbia.

"I-70's job is to move a lot of people quickly through Columbia," Gartner said. "It's not necessarily to get them to stop in Columbia. So expanding I-70 means that there'll be more people just  blowing through Columbia."

MoDOT said it doesn't anticipate taking land away from businesses along I-70, although plans are not finalized.

"Our our goal is to build a third lane on I-70 eastbound and westbound across the entire state, so if anything, I think it's going to it's going to solve some of the congestion problems here in Columbia, but also still make traffic, you know, go through Columbia. So i think it'll be a positive impact for  all the communities on I-70," said Ed Hassinger with MoDOT.

Gartner said she's looking forward to the beautification along the I-70 corridor that the city is working on with mo-dot. Those with The Loop believe that could attract more people to Columbia businesses.

The funds for the part of I-70 that runs through Columbia include a planned $185 million aimed at improving the Highway 63 exit and fixing pavement issues. Another $410 million would go toward creating new bridges, replacing pavement and adding a new lane in each direction. Those lanes would be about 13 miles long.

Parts of the interstate that run through Columbia see an average of 50,100 vehicles daily, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation. 

Lawmakers also agreed to add $5 million for an environmental study on Highway 63 from Cabool to Houston and $20 million for an environmental study on the Interstate 44 corridor. These studies are in anticipation of possible future projects.

Stephens College is taking advantage of the upcoming project to promote a new apprenticeship program aimed at getting more diversity in the workforce.

The project, which will kick off in early fall or winter, is a pre-construction apprenticeship program, a basic carpentry apprenticeship program and a heavy highway construction apprenticeship program targeted at women. Scott Taylor, executive director of Workforce Development at Stephens College, said it will prepare women to work on the highway expansion.

"There is a big initiative, as everybody knows, to diversify the workforce," Taylor said. "This is a great way to do that, to provide that opportunity, giving these women the skill set they need to prepare them to go into an industry that's been predominantly run by men."

Article Topic Follows: Missouri Politics

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Hannah Falcon

Hannah joined the ABC 17 News Team from Houston, Texas, in June 2021. She graduated from Texas A&M University. She was editor of her school newspaper and interned with KPRC in Houston. Hannah also spent a semester in Washington, D.C., and loves political reporting.


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