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Missouri DOT Project Transforming US Route 67 into an Interstate Advances in Butler County

by: Larry Bernstein
The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) is working on a multi-phase project in the southeastern part of the state, focusing on U.S. Route 67 in Butler County. Upon the successful completion of this project, alongside others spanning from Sikeston, Missouri, to Little Rock, Arkansas, the route will be known as Interstate 57 (I-57). At that point, all segments will be connected to existing interstates on both ends.
The Journey from Route to Interstate
The initiative to upgrade U.S. Route 67 to a divided highway began in 1997. At that time, MoDOT initiated an Environmental Impact Statement on the route. By 2011, approximately 50 miles of the route was upgraded north of the current project area (Poplar Bluff).

Since then, MoDOT has intended to continue the upgrade at Poplar Bluff to the Arkansas border, which is approximately 12 miles away. However, their efforts were hindered, due to limited transportation funding. That changed in 2019 when Poplar Bluff residents approved a ballot measure to fund the expansion of U.S. Route 67 south of Poplar Bluff, which supports plans for Future I-57. It was the second ballot measure residents approved (the first occurred in 2005).

Several criteria must be met to convert U.S Route 67 into an interstate. While both types of roads cross state lines, a significant difference between the two roads is the type and number of access and exit points. Interstates also have controlled access that occurs at interchanges, a network of outer roads that connect to the access points, and minimum speed limits.

“While many U.S. highways go directly through towns and have numerous roads that drivers can turn on, interstates tend to only have a select number of exits, utilizing on- and off-ramps rather than directly intersecting with other roads,” according to a road travel website. “Interstates also tend to have higher speed limits and more lanes, allowing for greater traffic flow. Routes, meanwhile, take a bit more of a ‘scenic’ approach, winding their way through population centers and over physical obstacles like rivers and mountains.”

In 2018, Congress passed a bill designating U.S. Route 67 from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and U.S. 60 from Poplar Bluff, Missouri, to Sikeston, Missouri, as an extension of the I-57 corridor.

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“In 2019, MoDOT formally requested the Federal Highway Administration’s [FHWA] approval of the statutory designation of the corridor extending from the Missouri/Arkansas state line north to Poplar Bluff, then east along Route 60 to I-57 at Sikeston as I-57,” said Marissa Van Robey Johnson, a MoDOT Senior Communications Specialist.

Completion of Phase 1
The U.S. Route 67 project in Butler County is a five-phased project. The first three phases (1A, 1B, and 2) have received funding, while the final two have yet to secure the necessary dollars.

The project includes upgrading U.S. Route 67 to interstate standards from the Route 160/158 interchange south of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, to the Missouri/Arkansas state line. The primary way this will be accomplished is by constructing four new lanes west of the existing U.S. Route 67 pavement and converting the existing pavement into an east outer road.

The team began construction on Phase 1A in the summer of 2022 and completed it in November 2023, as scheduled. One of the keys to the on-time completion, according to Johnson, was the coordination and cooperation between staff, consultants, and contractors.

Phase 1 focused on upgrading an interchange south of Poplar Bluff. “The interchange was upgraded to a diamond interchange with two roundabouts in place of the current loop ramps in the northwest and southeast quadrants,” Johnson said. “The roundabouts located at the intersecting route and ramp termini eliminate left turn movements, providing safer travel conditions while allowing for orderly traffic flow.”

Johnson said that the project was staged to maintain traffic flow and minimize impact on travelers.

H.R. Quadri Contractors, LLC served as the general contractor for the project. The Missouri-based company is a heavy civil and highway contractor that performs work throughout the state and has worked with MoDOT previously.

Safety and Efficiency Boost
The project offers area residents and motorists multiple benefits. The first of those benefits is safety. By reconfiguring the Route 160/158 interchange with roundabouts, there are fewer conflict points. Roundabouts eliminate conflict points where cars meet at a right angle, which reduces the risk of severe crashes.

According to Johnson, the overall project (beyond Phase 1A) will separate lanes of traffic, and upgrading to interstate standards is considered a safety improvement. The FHWA found that the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 0.55 on interstates compared with 1.3 on all other roads.

The project is also removing at-grade crossings to upgrade. “Traffic will no longer cross fast-moving lanes of traffic to get to the opposing lanes, which reduces the risk of right-angle crashes,” Johnson said. “These crashes are considered the crash type most responsible for fatalities and serious injuries at intersections.”

MoDOT is also expecting the project to reduce congestion and increase efficiency. This is particularly important since traffic is expected to double (the average daily traffic is currently 11,500) along the entire corridor over the next two decades.

Lastly, MoDOT officials believe the upgrade to interstate standards enhances connectivity along the corridor.

The construction contract for this phase of the project was $7.5 million. Project funding came from the Poplar Bluff sales tax increase and Governor Mike Parson’s cost share program. The state's share was approximately 35 percent.

“MoDOT supports the Highway 67 Corporation in their efforts to fund upgrades from Poplar Bluff, Missouri, to Arkansas,” said MoDOT District Engineer Mark Croarkin. “Once this work is funded and complete, the interstate designation will still be decades away.”

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