Missouri Might Gain an East-West Interstate Highway

Lawmakers Approve Study to Convert Route 36 to I-72
Map of Hannibal, Mo.
Currently, I-72 terminates in Hannibal, Mo., where it meets U.S. Route 61. (Google maps)

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The push to widen Interstate 70 to three lanes across Missouri’s midsection has spawned a renewed bid to upgrade another cross-state roadway to expressway standards.

As part of the state’s proposed budget, Missouri lawmakers approved $2.5 million to study the conversion of U.S. Route 36 into Interstate 72 between Hannibal in the east and St. Joseph in the west.

Also included in the spending plan being reviewed by Gov. Mike Parson are projects aimed at improving travel on the route around Hannibal and Macon.

Parson, who backed an increase in the state’s gas tax to boost road construction, is expected to sign the measure, although he did warn that he may veto some “fluff” in the budget.

Rep. Louis Riggs (R-Hannibal) said it is past time to finally bring Route 36 to interstate standards to take pressure off I-70, especially when the widening of the transcontinental road gets underway.

The proposed interstate would take the place of U.S. Route 36 between Hannibal and St. Joseph

“When 70 is torn up, who’s going to get the traffic? We are,” Riggs said.

The effort to upgrade the nearly 200-mile stretch of Route 36 is just one of the elements that led to striking a deal in the Legislature to pump $2.8 billion into the I-70 project after years of false starts.

In a search for votes from lawmakers whose districts are not affected by I-70, negotiators did some horse trading by inserting money into other road projects, including Route 36 and U.S. Route 63, which runs north and south in mid-Missouri.

The additional spending had some heavyweight support. Route 36 runs through Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin’s hometown of Shelbina.

Riggs said he supports the improvements to Interstate 70, but said it shouldn’t be at the expense of boosting other parts of the state.

“We need the same basic treatment up north,” he said.

Converting Route 36 into a federally designated interstate has been on the radar for years, with local officials taking matters into their own hands after the Missouri Department of Transportation said “insufficient state funding prevented its construction.”

Louis Riggs


Voters in four northern Missouri counties gained voter approval to establish a special district in 2005 to collect a countywide sales tax dedicated to bringing the 52-mile stretch between Macon and Hannibal to four-lane interstate standards.

MoDOT said the project reduced the corridor’s crash rate despite a 50% increase in traffic volume.

The roadway improvements were completed in 2010 and the local taxing district was dissolved in 2017, three years earlier than forecast.

Other sections of the road also have become two lanes in each direction, running through towns like Chillicothe and Cameron and near Marceline, the birthplace of Walt Disney.

If the study turns into actual bulldozers on the ground, the conversion of Route 36 into I-72 also would complete the long-sought Chicago-Kansas City corridor, which could reduce the amount of truck traffic flowing through St. Louis.

Riggs said he hopes MoDOT’s study looks at ways to make the future interstate “agriculturally friendly” so farmers can coexist with freight traffic. In addition, he wants the upgrades to include electric vehicle charging stations.

“There are ways of getting this done,” Riggs said. “The traffic is there. We can see the uptick.”

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