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On Monday evening, construction crews began work on an ambitious $2.8 billion project to widen Interstate 70 across Missouri to three lanes.

Workers will first tackle a section from Route J in Millersburg to Route M in Hatton, 7 miles of a 20-mile section that will ultimately add a third lane in each direction from Columbia to Kingdom City.

The nighttime schedule is designed to keep traffic disruptions to a minimum as highway work progresses from the center of the state to other sections at the eastern and western ends of the highway.

The first 20-mile section of the project is scheduled for completion in late 2027. Subsequent phases will improve highway sections from Warrenton to Wentzville and from Blue Springs to Odessa. The entire project is scheduled for completion by 2030.

Initially, road crews will close the westbound lane every evening between 7 and 6 p.m. to lay new asphalt to reinforce the highway’s shoulders, said Jeff Gander, the central project manager for the state’s Improve I-70 project.

When this section is completed, the eastbound lane will be closed to traffic. Completion is expected this summer.

First contract to widen I-70 approved by Missouri Highway Commission

“After the shoulders are reinforced, they will re-mark the highway to direct traffic more to the outside. Then they will put up barriers on the inside along the entire road to demarcate the median so we can do our work there,” Gander said.

In addition to adding a third lane in each direction on the 20 miles between the US 63 and US 54 exits, workers will improve the intersections of US 63 and I-70 in Columbia and between US 54 and I-70 in Kingdom City.

The Missouri Department of Transportation plans to begin work on the U.S. 63-Interstate 70 connection this summer, while construction on U.S. 54 likely won’t begin until 2025, Gander said.

A St. Charles-based contractor, Millstone Weber, has been selected for the first phase, which is expected to cost $405 million. The contractor intends to avoid impacting local traffic by keeping two lanes open at all times during construction, with the exception of some temporary closures at night.

“We’re committed to this project to keeping two lanes of I-70 open during all peak hours, which is during the day,” he said. “There’s a good possibility that one lane will be closed both eastbound and westbound at the same time at night.”

MoDOT has been conducting preliminary work ahead of construction on Monday, including drilling road cores and underground drilling where some of the structures will be built in preparation for planning.

Because the initiative is a design-build project, highway improvements will be phased in, Gander said. With this type of project, full design plans are completed while the project is still underway.

“If we actually award this contract, we don’t have full design plans — we have plans that are probably about 30 percent complete,” Gander said. “Right now, they’re working flat out to fully design the rest of the project.”

The project has been on the Department of Transportation’s unfunded agenda for nearly 20 years and is the largest highway construction program since the early 1960s. The expanded section of highway will run from Blue Springs in Jackson County to Wentzville in St. Charles County.

More than 40,000 vehicles travel between Kansas City and St. Louis every day. A third lane will allow emergency vehicles to get to crash scenes faster and with less congestion, making drivers safer and less frustrated, Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna said in a previous Missourian report.

Because of the extensive highway construction around Columbia in the next few years, it is important for people to be alert while driving, Gander said.

Inattention behind the wheel is the main problem facing highway construction workers, he said.

“Once the project gets rolling and we’ve worked through all the different areas, there could be around 300 people working there every day, including our main contractor and subcontractors,” he said.

“Our goal is for everyone to get home safely, and we really need the public’s help to do that.”

This story originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian. It may be republished in print or online.