|Length:||388 mi (624.43 km)|
|Existed:||1984 – present|
|South end:||I-10 / US 167 in Lafayette, LA|
|North end:||I-20 in Shreveport, LA|
|South end:||I-44 near Joplin, MO|
|North end:||I-435 / I-470 / US 50 / US 71 in Kansas City, MO|
Interstate 49 (I-49) is an Interstate Highway that exists in two segments: the original portion located entirely within the state of Louisiana in the southern United States, and a new section that opened in the state of Missouri in the midwest United States. Its southern terminus is in Lafayette, Louisiana, at Interstate 10 while its northern terminus is in Kansas City, Missouri, just north of Interstate 435. Portions of the remaining roadway in Arkansas, which will link Kansas City with New Orleans are in various stages of planning or construction.
Route description 
The Louisiana segment of I-49 begins its journey in Lafayette concurrent with U.S. Route 167 from I-10 to Opelousas at Exit 23. At Lafayette, motorists continuing southbound see the interstate highway change to U.S. 90 (Evangeline Thruway), a major thoroughfare taking travelers towards the heart of Lafayette. North of Lafayette, motorists on I-49 will parallel the ancient Mississippi river bed north of Carencro, and through Grand Coteau, just south of Opelousas.
After leaving Opelousas, I-49 traverses the relatively flat, fertile farmlands until reaching Alexandria. From there, the highway roughly follows the Red River and Louisiana 1, bypassing the historic city of Natchitoches to the west on its way to Shreveport. At Shreveport, the highway parallels a railroad line just to the west until its terminus at I-20 southwest of downtown.
The heaviest traffic on I-49 occurs within the cities of Shreveport and Opelousas. The stretch of freeway in Shreveport sees an average of 70,000 vehicles per day, while the stretch of freeway between Lafayette and Carencro sees an average of 55,000 vehicles per day, and the stretch of freeway through Opelousas sees an average of 45,000 vehicles per day between the Judson Walsh Drive and Creswell Lane exits.
The Interstate 49 designation in Missouri became official at noon on Wednesday, December 12, 2012. The designation applies to 180 miles of current US 71 between Interstate 435 in south Kansas City and Route H at Pineville, Missouri (McDonald County) which was upgraded to Interstate standards beginning in 2010. The last of the upgrade projects was completed in December 2012. I-49 also runs concurrently with Interstate 44 between I-44 interchanges 11 and 18 east of Joplin, Missouri.
MoDOT began installing I-49 trailblazer signage (without shields) plus gantry signs and mile markers, about 1200 signs in all, in February 2012. Signage bearing I-49 shields was covered or turned from view until the I-49 designation received final approval by FHWA. This includes mile markers at 0.2-mile intervals along the entire alignment apart from Interstate 44.
The US 71 upgrade involved removing all at-grade intersections and constructing interchanges and overpasses at fifteen sites between Harrisonville and Lamar. The two-year project represented a shift in funding priorities for MoDOT which in 2007, announced indefinite postponement of its portion of the Bella Vista bypass project, citing a $139-million dollar funding gap in Arkansas between construction costs and toll revenues, and Arkansas' commitment to only a two-lane bypass constructed over six years. MoDOT announced the Joplin-to-Kansas City upgrade of US 71 in August 2010, to be done with the intention of bringing the I-49 designation to Missouri.
The original plans for Interstate Highways in Louisiana only included Interstates 10 and 20 with no connection in between. After Interstate 55 was added in the 1950s, the state considered building a toll road to connect I-10 in southwestern Louisiana and I-20 in the northern part of the state, but later rejected the idea.
In the mid-1970s, the Federal Highway Administration approved an Interstate Highway to run between I-10 and I-20, beginning at I-10 in Lafayette and ending at I-20 in Shreveport. The mileage was gained from mileage released from other highways the states did not build as well as 153 miles (246 km) from a supplemental reserve.
Construction of I-49 began in the early 1980s, the first signed segment from I-10 to Washington, Louisiana, opened in 1984. After several delays, most of the highway was open by the early 1990s. The entire length of the 212-mile (341 km) road was completed May 1, 1996 when a 16.6-mile (26.7 km) section of highway in Alexandria named the Martin Luther King Jr. Highway was completed. The total cost of I-49's construction was about $1.38 billion.
Arkansas and Missouri have been pursuing an I-49 designation for U.S. 71 and I-540 for a number of years. In the early 2000s, there were plans by both states to rename the roadway as such between I-44 west of Joplin and I-40 at Fort Smith, once new roadway had been completed around Bella Vista, Arkansas and north to Pineville, Missouri. However, the AASHTO Special Committee on U.S. Route Numbers and Interstate Highways denied the I-49 designation at their annual meeting in September 2007 because none of the new roadway was under construction.
During this time, there was also some debate as to whether the Interstate 29 designation should be extended further south from its current terminus in Kansas City, to either Joplin or all the way to Fort Smith.
A 180-mile stretch of U.S. 71 from south Kansas City to Joplin officially became Interstate 49 at noon on December 12, 2012.
Interstate 49 North is a 36-mile construction project that will connect I-220 in Shreveport to the Arkansas state line. This project has been divided into 11 segments. Of the 11 segments, 4 are complete and 5 are under construction As of November 2012[update] and $460 million of $622 million needed to complete the project has been secured.
State transportation officials are currently working on plans to extend Interstate 49 to the south and east, from Lafayette to New Orleans roughly following the path of the current U.S. 90, which is at present a four-lane divided highway between the two cities. However, from Morgan City to near Raceland, U.S. 90 is an interstate-standard freeway, bypassing Houma to the north.
In the Lafayette area, the project is divided into two projects, the I-49 Connector and the rest of the interstate from the Lafayette Regional Airport to LA 88. The I-49 Connector has a record of decision and is currently in the process of formulating the Environmental Impact Study. It is planned to be a six-lane elevated freeway, passing to the West of the current Evangeline Thruway corridor, as to be closer to the Central Business District in Downtown Lafayette. The rest of the freeway from the airport to LA 88 will be an at grade six-lane freeway with a two mile (3 km) segment of eight-lane elevated freeway through the suburb of Broussard.
In the immediate New Orleans area, I-49 is planned to follow the route of the U.S. 90 Business (also known locally as the Westbank Expressway) through Westwego, Gretna and across the Crescent City Connection into downtown New Orleans, ending at I-10. "Future I-49" signage is visible along U.S. 90 and U.S. 90 Business, although as of December 2012, construction has yet to begin.
In addition to the southeastward extension, Louisiana officials are also working on clearing, grubbing and drainage for the new extension from Shreveport to the Arkansas line. The construction roughly parallels U.S. 71 northward from I-220. Plans are underway to connect I-49 at the I-20 interchange with I-49 North in the vicinity of the I-220 interchange.
In southern Arkansas State Highway 549 has been built to Interstate standards between Texarkana and Doddridge, 5 miles (8.0 km) from the state line. It is presently being constructed to complete the routing to the state line. "Future I-49" segments extending northward from Texarkana, AR plus segments from Doddridge south into Louisiana are shown on the official Arkansas 2011 Highway Map and the official Arkansas 2012 Highway Map.
Construction is underway on the 180-mile section between Texarkana and Fort Smith with several of the road's bridges already completed. It is planned to follow the general route of U.S. 71 through the state between Interstate 30 and Interstate 40.
North of I-40, Interstate 49 will follow existing Interstate 540 which currently ends south of Bella Vista, about 8 miles south of the Missouri state line. Here, motorists must endure about 15 miles of four-lane highway with intersections, traffic signals, lower speed limits and congestion before the present northern segment of I-49 begins at Pineville, Missouri. (see map)
On August 11, 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced $10 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant funding to construction "portions" of the new four-lane bypass, though the funding covers only a two-lane segment 2.5 miles long. Groundbreaking occurred on July 8, 2011. The USDOT news release refers to the project as part of the "I-49 corridor", effectively ending questions about how the new highway would be numbered.
A major hurdle to construction of the bypass over the years has been funding. The 2010 TIGER grant application submitted by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) estimated total cost for completion in Arkansas as $291.8 million dollars. The document states the portion of the bypass in Arkansas is "proposed to be constructed as a toll facility, while the Missouri portion of the Bypass will be constructed as a free route" and that "it is understood that the tolled portion of the Bypass in Arkansas must be signed as Future I-49 until the tolls are removed and the route is open to traffic as a free facility. After the tolls are removed, the route will be signed as I-49."
Missouri still has $40 million available for construction of its portion of the Bella Vista bypass from Pineville to the Arkansas state line.
Kansas City 
The I-49 designation carries through the Three Trails Crossing (formerly known as the Grandview Triangle) interchange to guide motorists onto US 71 north of I-435 and terminates north of I-435 and south of Bannister Road (Route W) around the 190.0 mile marker.
From this point north, US 71 follows Bruce R. Watkins Drive, a parkway which directly connects the I-70 / I-670 interchange in downtown Kansas City, as well as the I-35 / I-29 and I-70 interchange just to the north, to south Kansas City and I-435, I-470 and I-49.
Most of the 10.2-mile corridor, constructed between 1990 and 2001, was built to Interstate standards. However, three at-grade intersections — at Gregory Boulevard (71st Street), 59th Street and 55th Street — prevent the I-49 designation from being extended all the way to downtown. All three of these intersections were on the Kansas City Police Department's 2010 list of "Top 20 Crash Sites in Kansas City", at #9, #6 and #4 respectively and Watkins Drive has the reputation among commuters as "one of the city's most accident-prone stretches of road".
Many neighborhood associations in Kansas City have historically objected to upgrading Watkins Drive to a freeway. MoDOT has gone on record stating a court order keeps them from removing the stoplights, making conversion of this stretch unlikely.
As for any future upgrade, a MoDOT blog post says "Ample right of way was acquired to someday allow MoDOT to reconstruct the three signal-controlled, at-grade intersections to grade-separated interchanges, allowing traffic on Bruce R. Watkins Drive to flow unimpeded. Neither MoDOT nor the city of Kansas City can initiate this change. It is up to the citizens, who must raise the issue again through the court system to amend the class-action agreement."
- "FHWA Route Log and Finder List: Table 1". Federal Highway Administration. October 31, 2002. Retrieved March 28, 2007.
- "U.S. 71 from Kansas City to Joplin to become Interstate 49". Kansas City Star. September 2, 2012.
- "New I-49 Signs Being Installed Along U.S. 71". Missouri Department of Transportation.
- "New I-49 Signs Being Installed Along U.S. 71". Missouri Department of Transportation.
- "Missouri gateway to Bella Vista bypass scrapped". Joplin Independent (Joplin, MO). October 15, 2007.
- "I-49 Coming to Missouri". Missouri Department of Transportation. August 4, 2010. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
- "Previous Facts of the Day". 50th Anniversary Interstate Highway System. Federal Highway Administration. Retrieved May 27, 2007.
- Kennedy, Wally (May 11, 2007). "Plan holds 2008 finish for Range Line Bypass". The Joplin Globe (Joplin, MO). Retrieved November 29, 2012.
- "AASHTO Annual Meeting Report". American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. September 29, 2007.
- "Interstate 49 (Corridors 1 and 37)". AAroads.com. June 9, 2002. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
- "I-49 North". Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
- [dead link]
- USDOT: "U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Helps Break Ground on Bella Vista Bypass"
- "TIGER II Discretionary Grant Program 2010 application | AHTD
- "US-71 Highway to become I-49 on Wednesday". KMBC-TV. December 11, 2012.
- "Kansas City's Vital Link". Pathways (Missouri Department of Transportation). Fall 2001.
- "Bruce R. Watkins Drive Is Smoother Months Ahead of Schedule". Missouri Department of Transportation. July 28, 2009.
- "Kansas City PD Top 20 Crash Sites, 2010" (PDF). KMBC-TV.
- Wilson, Susan B. (June 15, 2010). "No Changes In Store For Controversial Bruce R Watkins Drive". Kansas City, MO: KCUR-FM. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
- Ortega, Tony (May 26, 2005). "Road Rage". The Pitch (Kansas City, MO). Retrieved November 29, 2012.
- "Comments and responses from MoDOT’s blog relating to ARRA" (PDF). Summary of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Briefings. Missouri Department of Transportation. March 10, 2009. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Interstate 49|
- Interstate Guide: I-49
- I-49 Energy Corridor
- I-49 North (Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development)
- I-49 Report
- I-49 Inner-City Connector-Shreveport
- I-49 Inner City Connector map (Shreveport, LA)
- I-49 Connector (Lafayette, LA)
- Future I-49 South Pictures (Stephen Gantry)
- Future I-49 South Pictures (Andy P. Jung)
- Arkansas Highway & Transportation Dept. - Bella Vista Bypass