COLUMBIA — On Monday morning local officials plunged a golden, five-handled shovel into the earth and sent a thin billow of dirt drifting in the breeze toward the nearby airport.
The groundbreaking signified the start of a $9.8 million project to build a diamond interchange at U.S. 63 and Route H — the primary intersection leading to Columbia Regional Airport.
Money for the project, which was initially estimated to cost $14 million in March, was funded from the existing state budget, Democratic Rep. Chris Kelly said.
"The highway commission was so efficient with some of its other projects that it saved the $10 mil. that was necessary for this project," he said.
The new interchange will provide ramp access on and off the highway and turn the existing southbound lanes of U.S. 63 into an outer road access. These changes will improve traffic flow and safety, according to a Missouri Department of Transportation news release.
The construction also will help provide economic opportunities for the area.
"This is the first step in the economic viability of this airport," Boone County Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller said. "Our airport is critical to the forward progress of this community."
Chester Bross Construction Co. and C.B. Equipment Inc. of Hannibal have been contracted for the project.
The planned completion date for the interchange is late 2012.