Route of completed sections of I-49 as of 2014 in red
|Length||528.02 mi (849.77 km)|
|South end||/ in Lafayette, LA|
|North end||in Shreveport, LA|
|Northern Louisiana-southern Arkansas segment|
|South end||in Shreveport, LA|
|North end||/ in Texarkana, AR|
|Northern Arkansas segment|
|South end||/ in Alma, AR|
|North end||/ in Bella Vista, AR|
|South end||in Pineville, MO|
|near Joplin, MO|
|North end||/ / / in Kansas City|
|States||Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri|
Interstate 49 (I-49) is a north-south Interstate Highway that exists in multiple segments: the original portion entirely within the state of Louisiana with an additional signed portion extending from I-220 in Shreveport to the Arkansas state line, four newer sections in Arkansas, and a new section that opened in Missouri. Its southern terminus is in Lafayette, Louisiana, at I-10 while its northern terminus is in Kansas City, Missouri at I-435 and I-470. Portions of the remaining roadway in Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas, which will link Kansas City with New Orleans, are in various stages of planning or construction. When I-49 is complete, the goal of the association will have been accomplished, with only a brief gap (served by other Interstates or US 71) and name change in Kansas City.
Although not part of the original 1957 Interstate Highway plan, residents of Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana began campaigning for the highway in 1965 via the "US 71 - I-29 Association" The campaign called for I-29 to be extended south from Kansas City to New Orleans following much of the route along US 71. The plan called for creating a limited access expressway from New Orleans to the Canadian border and on to Winnipeg (via Manitoba Highway 75). The highway is not named I-29 because of Interstate naming rules. The rules state that north-south roads are odd numbered and the highways are named in increasing order from west to east. Since there is an I-35 and an I-45 to the west and an I-55 to the east, I-49 was chosen.
The current southern terminus of I-49 is located at a cloverleaf interchange with I-10 and US 167 in the southern Louisiana city of Lafayette. Southbound motorists continue through the interchange onto the Evangeline Thruway, which transitions from a limited-access portion of US 167 to a major divided thoroughfare that picks up the US 90 corridor heading through the heart of Lafayette. I-49 begins its journey concurrent with US 167 as it travels northward through Carencro, Sunset, Grand Coteau, and Opelousas. US 167 departs from the interstate's alignment at exit 23 between Opelousas and Washington, and I-49 begins to take a northwesterly path through the heavily wooded rural terrain. Various state highways provide access to the small towns and cities located along the parallel US 71 and US 167 corridors, such as Lebeau, Ville Platte, Bunkie, and Cheneyville. After crossing US 167, I-49 travels between US 71 and US 165 into the Alexandria metropolitan area in central Louisiana.
I-49 travels through downtown Alexandria doubling as US 71 Byp. and is also concurrent with portions of US 167 and LA 28. Major interchanges with US 167 and US 71 lead to bridges that cross the Red River into the neighboring city of Pineville. Continuing northwest from Alexandria, I-49 parallels the Red River and LA 1 through Boyce and passes just west of the historic city of Natchitoches, which is reached via LA 6 at exit 138. Between Natchitoches and Shreveport, I-49 travels between LA 1 and US 171 and has junctions with US 371 and US 84, connecting with Coushatta and Mansfield, respectively.
In Shreveport, the interstate heads directly into the downtown area and terminates at I-20, a route which facilitates eastbound traffic. However, through traffic bound for I-20 west and the northern segment of I-49 is directed to transfer onto LA 3132 at an interchange located about 5.5 miles (8.9 km) south of this terminus. LA 3132 is a western freeway bypass of Shreveport known as the Inner Loop Expressway that becomes I-220 upon intersecting I-20. On the north side of town, motorists may exit I-220 and follow the next segment of I-49, which parallels US 71 into Arkansas.
The heaviest traffic on I-49 occurs within the cities of Shreveport and Opelousas. The stretch of freeway in Shreveport sees an average of 70,000 vehicles per day, while the stretch of freeway between Lafayette and Carencro sees an average of 55,000 vehicles per day, and the stretch of freeway through Opelousas sees an average of 45,000 vehicles per day between the Judson Walsh Drive and Creswell Lane exits.
The southern segment of I-49 enters Arkansas from Louisiana. It progresses northward to a temporary terminus at US 71 and US 59 at the Texas state line north of Texarkana.
The northern segment of I-49 in Arkansas, formerly signed as part of I-540, begins at I-40 in Alma and runs north to Northwest Arkansas through the Boston Mountains. The freeway passes through steep, sparsely populated terrain before entering the Bobby Hopper Tunnel in Washington County. Entering Northwest Arkansas, I-49 has seven exits for Fayetteville and three exits for Springdale before entering Benton County. The route serves as the boundary between Bentonville and Rogers, with seven exits for the two cities before terminating at US 71. The roadway continues as a divided highway with stoplights into Bella Vista, although a bypass is under construction.
I-49 begins in Pineville. It passes through several smaller communities before reaching Neosho shortly before Joplin. In Joplin, I-49 junctions with I-44 and begins a short concurrency with I-44 for exits 11 through 18.
Just a few miles east of Joplin, I-49 leaves I-44 and heads north and enters Carthage. I-49 then passes through Nevada and other communities before reaching the Kansas City area. I-49 intersects with I-470 and I-435, which provides connection to I-70 and I-35 and I-29.
In south Kansas City, at Bannister Road just north of the Grandview Triangle, the I-49 designation ends, and the expressway continues as US 71, which proceeds into downtown Kansas City as Bruce R. Watkins Memorial Drive.
The original plans for the Interstate Highway System did not include a north–south connection between Interstates 10 and 20 within Louisiana. In 1965, Governor John McKeithen proposed a toll road to perform this function and extend to New Orleans as well, but the idea was never carried out. In the mid-1970s, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approved an Interstate Highway to run between US 190 in Opelousas and I-20 in Shreveport, a route that was designated as I-49 by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in the summer of 1977. The mileage was gained from mileage released from other highways the states did not build as well as 153 miles (246 km) from a supplemental reserve. In 1981, AASHTO approved a slight extension of the designation along the existing route of US 167 from Opelousas south to I-10 in Lafayette. In its early history, I-49 was commonly referred to as the North–South Expressway.
Construction of I-49 began in 1981 between Opelousas and the small town of Washington. This segment joined the portion running concurrent with US 167, an existing limited-access highway, and was completed by 1983. By the following year, virtually all remaining rural portions of the route were under construction, and 95% of this mileage was completed and opened to traffic between late 1987 and late 1989. The remaining portions running through the urban centers of Alexandria and Shreveport required a much greater expenditure of time and funding. The entire length of the 212-mile (341 km) road was completed on May 1, 1996 with the opening of a 16.6-mile (26.7 km) section in downtown Alexandria named the Martin Luther King Jr. Highway. The total cost of I-49's construction was about $1.38 billion.
"Interstate 49 North" was a 36-mile (58 km) construction project that extended the highway from I-20 in Shreveport to the Arkansas state line, and was divided into 11 segments. On November 27, 2013, the first 18.9-mile (30.4 km) section between LA 1 and US 71 opened to traffic, and the extension to a point just south of the Arkansas state line opened in March 2014. On May 31, 2017, a 4.25-mile (6.84 km) portion between LA 3194 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive) and LA 1 in Shreveport was opened to northbound traffic, with the section and interchange with I-220 scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2018. On June 15, 2018, the entire 5.25-mile (8.45 km) portion of I-49 between I-220 and LA 1, including an interchange with I-220, was opened to traffic, with the remaining interchange ramps expected to be completed in the late summer or early fall of 2018. On October 17, 2018, the remaining interchange ramps were opened to traffic.
Arkansas and Missouri have been pursuing an I-49 designation for U.S. 71 and I-540 for a number of years. In the early-2000s, there were plans by both states to rename the roadway as such between Interstate 44 west of Joplin and Interstate 40 at Fort Smith, once a new bypass of U.S. 71 had been completed around Bella Vista, Arkansas and north to Pineville, Missouri. However, the AASHTO Special Committee on U.S. Route Numbers and Interstate Highways denied the I-49 designation at their annual meeting in September 2007 because none of the new roadway was yet under construction. During this time, there was also some debate as to whether the Interstate 29 designation should be extended farther south from its current terminus in Kansas City, to either Joplin or all the way to Fort Smith.
The I-49 designation, consisting of 180 miles (290 km) in Missouri, became official at noon on December 12, 2012. The designation applies to current US 71 between I-435 in south Kansas City and Route H at Pineville (McDonald County), which was upgraded to Interstate standards beginning in 2010. The last of the upgrade projects was completed in December 2012. I-49 also runs concurrently with I-44 between interchanges 11 and 18 east of Joplin.
MoDOT began installing I-49 trailblazer signage (without shields) plus gantry signs and mile markers, about 1200 signs in all, in February 2012. Signage bearing I-49 shields was covered or turned from view until the I-49 designation received final approval by FHWA. This includes mile markers at 0.2-mile (0.32 km) intervals along the entire alignment apart from I-44.
The US 71 upgrade involved removing all at-grade intersections and constructing interchanges and overpasses at 15 sites between Harrisonville and Lamar. The two-year project represented a shift in funding priorities for MoDOT which in 2007, announced indefinite postponement of its portion of the Bella Vista bypass project, citing a $139-million dollar funding gap in Arkansas between construction costs and toll revenues, and Arkansas' commitment to only a two-lane bypass constructed over six years. MoDOT announced the Joplin-to-Kansas City upgrade of US 71 in August 2010, to be done with the intention of bringing the I-49 designation to Missouri.
Most of the 10.2-mile corridor, constructed between 1990 and 2001, was built to Interstate standards. However, three at-grade intersections--at Gregory Boulevard (71st Street), 59th Street and 55th Street--prevent the I-49 designation from being extended all the way to downtown. All three of these intersections were on the Kansas City Police Department's 2010 list of "Top 20 Crash Sites in Kansas City", at #9, #6 and #4 respectively and Watkins Drive has the reputation among commuters as "one of the city's most accident-prone stretches of road". Many neighborhood associations in Kansas City have historically objected to upgrading Watkins Drive to a freeway. MoDOT has gone on record stating a court order keeps them from removing the stoplights, making conversion of this stretch unlikely. As for any future upgrade, a MoDOT blog post says "Ample right of way was acquired to someday allow MoDOT to reconstruct the three signal-controlled, at-grade intersections to grade-separated interchanges, allowing traffic on Bruce R. Watkins Drive to flow unimpeded. Neither MoDOT nor the city of Kansas City can initiate this change. It is up to the citizens, who must raise the issue again through the court system to amend the class-action agreement."
The I-49 designation carries through the Three Trails Crossing (aka the Grandview Triangle) interchange to guide motorists onto US 71 north of I-435 and terminates north of I-435 and south of Bannister Road (Route W) around the 190.0 mile marker. From this point north, US 71 follows Bruce R. Watkins Drive, a parkway which directly connects the I-70 / I-670 interchange in downtown Kansas City, as well as the I-35 / I-29 / I-70 interchange just to the north, to south Kansas City and I-435, I-470 and I-49.
Arkansas 549 between AR-72 and County Road 34 opened on August 22, 2015.
I-49 has now been completed to the state line. "Future I-49" segments extending northward from Texarkana, Arkansas plus segments from Doddridge south into Louisiana are shown on the official Arkansas 2013 Highway Map.
The route was completed and signed as I-49 in late 2014.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (La DOTD) is working to extend I-49 from Lafayette southeast to New Orleans along the route of US 90, which is a divided four-lane highway between the two cities. Some portions, such as the freeway between Morgan City and the Raceland area, are already built to interstate standards.
In the Lafayette area, the project is divided into two projects, the I-49 Lafayette Connector and the upgrade of US 90 from Lafayette Regional Airport to the LA 88 interchange. The I-49 Lafayette Connector is currently undergoing a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement study and Conceptual Design Study due to refinements to the alignment originally approved in the February 2003 Record of Decision. It is planned to be a six-lane elevated freeway, mostly utilizing the Evangeline Thruway corridor, except for a segment paralleling the BNSF/Union Pacific railroad line in order to serve the downtown area. The rest of the freeway from the airport to LA 88 will be an at-grade six-lane freeway with a 2-mile (3.2 km) segment of eight-lane elevated freeway through the suburb of Broussard.
Much of US 90 between LA 88 and the Wax Lake Outlet bridge west of Patterson is already upgraded to interstate standards, except for an at-grade intersection with LA 318 south of Jeanerette. Construction is now underway to convert that intersection to a grade-separated interchange with frontage roads for local access. From Wax Lake to the Atchafalaya River bridge at Morgan City, US 90 is a four-lane divided at-grade expressway. A Supplemental EIS is ongoing to upgrade that segment to interstate standards.
The Raceland--New Orleans segment of the proposed I-49 South was originally approved in 2008 with a Record of Decision for a fully elevated freeway on a mostly new alignment along the entire length. However, in 2014, La DOTD launched a study to consider less expensive alternatives and to expedite design and construction of that segment. The resulting design changes greatly reduced costs by incorporating much of the existing US 90 corridor, save for bypasses of Des Allemands and Paradis, as well as a revised connection with I-310/LA 3127. A Supplemental EIS is ongoing for that segment to finalize these changes.
In the immediate New Orleans area, I-49 is planned to follow the route of US 90 Bus., much of which is an elevated freeway. US 90 Bus. follows the Westbank Expressway through Westwego, Gretna, and Algiers. It then crosses Crescent City Connection over the Mississippi River into Downtown New Orleans and continues onto the Pontchartrain Expressway to an interchange with I-10. "Future I-49" signage is visible along US 90 and US 90 Bus., although as of 2017, construction has yet to begin.
In addition to the southern extension, Louisiana officials are also working on the completion of I-49 from Shreveport to the Arkansas line. Options for the remaining gap between I-20 and I-220 in Shreveport include the proposed Inner-City Connector, a 3.6-mile (5.8 km) direct connection between the completed portions of I-49. A no-build proposal is to reroute I-49 onto existing portions of LA 3132 (Inner Loop Expressway) and I-220 through Shreveport.
 The 180-mile (289.7 km) section between Texarkana and Fort Smith remains largely incomplete. Right-of-way has been acquired and engineering has been completed, but construction is contingent upon allocating funding to the corridor. After applying for and receiving assistance from the 2012 Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, ArDot has begun construction on a new highway location for I-49 between the current I-40/I-540 interchange and US 71 south of Fort Smith, bypassing Van Buren and Fort Smith. Work is now complete between US 71 and Highway 22 near Fort Chaffee as the first and southernmost phase of the extension of I-49 south of I-540. The project is explicitly mentioned as an effort to complete I-49 in the TIGER grant application. Colloquially referred to as "Chaffee Crossing", this first phase was completed on July 15, 2015 at 10:00am at the AR-549 and AR-22 Interchange. I-49 is planned to follow the general route of US 71 through the state between Interstates 30 and 40.
North of I-40, Interstate 49 ends south of Bella Vista, about 8 miles (13 km) south of the Missouri state line. Here, motorists continue north 15 miles (24 km) of four-lane US 71 with intersections, traffic signals, lower speed limits and congestion before the present northern segment of I-49 begins at Pineville, Missouri. Motorists are eager to see completion of the 19-mile (30.6 km) "Bella Vista Bypass" between Bella Vista, Arkansas and Pineville, Missouri.
A major hurdle to construction of the bypass over the years has been funding. The 2010 TIGER grant application submitted by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) estimated total cost for completion in Arkansas as $291.8 million. The document states the portion of the bypass in Arkansas is "proposed to be constructed as a toll facility, while the Missouri portion of the Bypass will be constructed as a free route".
On August 11, 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced $10 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant funding to construct a portion of the new four-lane bypass, though the funding covers only a two-lane segment 2.5 miles (4.0 km) long. Groundbreaking occurred on July 8, 2011 with a public ceremony that included Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, and Senator Mark Pryor. The USDOT news release refers to the project as part of the "I-49 corridor", effectively ending questions about how the new highway would be numbered. The following year, the segment between Highway 72 north and County Road 34 was let. As of March 2014, AHTD anticipates completion of this first segment between Highway 72 north and Highway 72 south in spring 2014, and the next section in fall 2014.
Following the passing of a ten-year half-cent sales tax measure in 2012, AHTD had acquired sufficient additional revenue to fund the southbound half of the Bella Vista Bypass without tolls. Since design work had been completed prior to passing the measure, AHTD was able to let the segment between Highway 72 and US 71B in February 2014 as the first job of the Connecting Arkansas Program. AHTD anticipates completion of this project in 2016.
The only Arkansas project remaining for a fully operational two-lane bypass is the 7.6 mile (12.2 km) section between County Road 34 and the Missouri state line; however, it is listed as TBD by AHTD. Design work is complete for the roadway project, and is anticipated to be complete in 2015 for the interchange. Construction of the roadway is anticipated to be complete in 2017, assuming a one-year delay related to Missouri funding. Construction on the interchange is tentatively scheduled to be complete in 2018. Missouri DOT is responsible for a segment between the Missouri state line and I-49, with no clear path to funding at present. The Bella Vista Bypass is now on hold again because on August 5, 2014, an amendment bill intended to raise the sales tax failed at the ballot box. Not wanting to build a destination-less stub road, the Arkansas State Highway Commission officially postponed the construction of the segment between the Missouri state line and County Road 34 in September 2013 pending Missouri acquiring funding.
On May 10, 2017, a 6.4 mile (10.3 km) segment of the bypass between the existing 5 mile segment near Hiwasse, Arkansas and a new temporary roundabout interchange with I-49 and US 71 near Bentonville, Arkansas opened after three years of construction, and costing over $50 million to complete.
North of Texarkana, Interstate 49 will briefly venture into Texas for about 5 miles before turning northwest and crossing the Red River of the South to reenter Arkansas. How the mileposts and the exits will be numbered once the Interstate returns to Arkansas have yet to be determined.
In 2012, Missouri still had $40 million available for construction of its portion of the Bella Vista bypass from Pineville to the Arkansas state line. MoDOT's I-49 project manager said in an interview that "[MoDOT has] told Arkansas that whatever schedule it sets, we will meet them at the state line." However, once Arkansas began building toward the state line it was revealed that Missouri was $25 million short of the necessary funds to complete their section. A ballot initiative was defeated in August 2014 in Missouri, which put the project on hold for nearly five years. In March 2019, the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission approved funding for completion of the Bella Vista Bypass. Bids will be let in 2020 with the project scheduled for completion in summer 2022.
Gap in route