Regional community leaders and planners on Wednesday formally organized and elected leadership for the Missouri U.S. Highway 65 Coalition.
The group, first proposed during a June meeting in Sedalia, met Wednesday at the Workforce Development Board of Western Missouri offices to discuss a draft “purpose and intent” proposal.
The group plans to meet state transportation officials on Oct. 6 to take a first run at selling its case for investment and expansion of U.S. Highway 65 from Iowa to the Arkansas border.
The group of more than 30 elected officials representing more than half of the 12 Missouri counties served by the north-south transportation artery unanimously approved the draft proposal and voted to name Warsaw City Administrator Randy Pogue as chairman. Pogue was among a handful of officials who called for the June meeting hoping to develop a regional voice dedicated to securing state and federal highway dollars for projects.
Pogue said the effort has “grown by leaps and bounds” since the June meeting and believes sparse availability for transportation projects will work in the group’s favor, giving it time to develop a long-term plan as well as relationships with transportation officials whose support will be essential to approve significant projects.
“We know there is no money, so we have to have a short-term focus on the needs we have and what we can improve now and work towards the bigger goal of making this a major north-south route,” Pogue said.
Irv Jensen, executive director of the Benton County Development Corp., walked the group through a PowerPoint presentation detailing the group’s basic case for investment and how the group would be organized.
Jensen described Highway 65 as a significant tool for long-term economic development and job creation, both north of Interstate 70, where it serves mainly agribusiness, and to the south, where it connects larger communities and tourist destinations.
Jensen said that population estimates show likely declines in northern communities along Highway 65, as well as moderate to high growth in southern counties — with Branson’s neighboring Christian County likely to see as much as a 141 percent population increase by 2030.
“The importance of expansion along this route cannot be underestimated,” Jensen said, adding that investment along the entire highway will help support booming populations in the south of the state as well as “hopefully reducing the loss they could see north of I-70.”
The draft plan calls for a short-term goal of planning along three “gap areas” that are limited to two-lane traffic: Warsaw to Buffalo, a 48-mile project; Marshall to U.S. Highway 36, a 60-mile project; and U.S. Highway 36 to the Iowa border, also a 60-mile project.
The group also will develop long-term strategies to address resurfacing, additional turn lanes and other enhancements to existing stretches of four-lane road.