A new section of four-lane U.S. Highway 65 north of Lincoln opened over the weekend in Benton County.
The new lanes on the three-mile section of the highway, running from just south of state Route 52 near Cole Camp down to Lincoln, opened to traffic Saturday afternoon, according to Missouri Department of Transportation spokesperson Angela Eden. She said MoDOT is advising motorists to use caution and be aware of new stop signs in place for side roads approaching the new northbound lanes.
While small stretches of one-lane closures persist as crews work to finish lane striping and the extension of a box culvert, MoDOT expects all four lanes of the highway from Sedalia to Lincoln will be open by the end of the month, Eden said.
“It will definitely improve safety all along that stretch of highway,” Eden said.
To the people who live and work in the area, the opening of the new four-lane section of the highway was a welcome sight, coming more than a year after the groundbreaking of the project.
Warren Gooden and Linda McAfee, co-managers of The Country Store at 217 N. Highway 65, said the highway has been under construction since the store opened in Lincoln in August, so they were pleased to see the expanded thoroughfare open north of the city this weekend.
“It’s only going to help us,” McAfee said. “It’s going to be great when it’s all done.”
The new stretch of four-lane highway is part of a larger project to widen U.S. 65 to four lanes from Route 52 to state Route 7 in Warsaw.
The first, $3.7 million phase of the project widened the highway to five lanes through the city of Lincoln when it was completed last year.
The recently opened section north of Lincoln is part of a $19.3 million phase of the project, which also includes widening U.S. 65 to four lanes from south of Lincoln to Route 7 in Warsaw. The southern portion of the project is scheduled for completion in fall of 2012.
Transportation officials believe the project will improve traffic flow and safety, along with promoting economic development.
Lincoln Mayor Jack Lietzke said widening the highway would benefit the community, making Lincoln more attractive by easing the commute for residents who work or do business in other cities along U.S. 65.
“I think it’s great. I think it’s going to help the economy here a lot,” Lietzke said. “Really, the construction of it has helped Lincoln a lot.”
Throughout what he described as a smooth construction process, Lietzke said the crews working on the project also contributed to local businesses by eating lunches and making other purchases in town.
Warsaw resident John Denney also lauded the benefits of the plan that would make U.S. 65 a four-lane highway between Sedalia and Warsaw, citing the amount of out-of-town traffic going through the communities along the route and the frequency with which ambulances in Benton County transport patients to Bothwell Regional Health Center.
“I think it’s great,” Denney said. “It’s nice and smooth — an easy ride. I think it’s a real good deal, and I think it’s been a long time coming.”