Campaign promotes Chicago to Kansas City expressway

Friday, June 22, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

ST. JOSEPH — New red-and-blue logo signs that adorn two Northwest Missouri highways may be a boom or a bust for regional tourism, depending on viewpoints.

The signs, which promote a Chicago-Kansas City Expressway that includes parts of U.S. 36 and Interstate 35, have been installed throughout the region this spring. They're part of a program approved by the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission in January, which also created a signed Missouri 110 that flows into a recently designated Illinois 110.

The expressway begins in downtown Kansas City on I-35 and then proceeds northeast to Cameron, east past Chillicothe on U.S. 36 and on across the Mississippi River to Illinois and eventually on to Chicago. Signs along the route in much of Missouri note the U.S. 36 designation as well as the new Missouri 110.

Spokeswoman Melissa Black of the Missouri Department of Transportation said the sign installation began with favorable weather and was completed regionally on May 24. The state's entire project cost an estimated $456,000.

"We believe this is a great opportunity for us to partner with regional economic development groups, including the Tri-State Development Summit, in promoting economic growth that will benefit the entire state," she said. The Tri-State Development Summit covers Missouri, Iowa and Illinois.

Tri-State said the expressway comprises 11 routes in Illinois and Missouri.

Black said the expressway fits with MoDOT's efforts in working with cities and counties on transportation projects that further business and jobs.

"This is a natural extension of this type of work," she said. "If we can move even 10 percent of the traffic from Interstate 70 to U.S. 36, we will significantly impact the counties (on the highway), and relieve some congestion from I-70."

The agency factored in support from local, state and federal officials and economic development groups in recommending the changes.

But not everyone is sold on the "CKC" signs having any great impact for the region.

"It's unnecessary," said Marci Bennett, executive director of the St. Joseph Convention & Visitors Bureau. "We're pushing the Highway 36, the Way of American Genius."

That designation refers to a pre-existing program, sponsored by the Missouri Highway 36 Heritage Alliance, to foster wide recognition of the area's character and history for tourism and economic development.

Bennett said the expressway is actually a detriment to travelers by piggybacking the Illinois 110 moniker into Missouri. Another Missouri 110 exists in Jefferson County, but to date there has been no push to alter that highway's route. Officials also said there are no legal or policy prohibitions against the overlapping designations.

"People are confused," Bennett said. "It doesn't come to St. Joseph. It's very confusing. It doesn't do anything for us. We didn't oppose it, but we didn't endorse it."

Yet a Caldwell County official sees potential in the expressway.

"Just the increase in traffic provides the opportunity for increased tourism and additional sales revenue," said John Deis, president of the Caldwell County Area Business Association. "The potential is greatest for Hamilton, and the challenge for Hamilton is to develop a plan to draw additional traffic into town beyond the convenience stores at the gate."

Black said MoDOT used efficiencies and existing resources when installing the expressway signs — for example, using existing posts when possible.

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