Highway 60 looking west towards Republic from S. Scenic Ave/S. Farm Rd 137 overpass. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

IN-DEPTH |

From Republic to Rogersville and about 24.5 miles in between, millions of dollars are being poured into making U.S. Highway 60 bigger, safer and easier to use.

Some projects are tied to an ambitious vision of converting James River Freeway into an interstate loop in Springfield — renaming and reclassifying it as Interstate 244. This would create a more streamlined south passage with six lanes to complement the I-44 corridor, and potentially lower drive times for locals and people who pass through Springfield.

An interstate highway conversion could happen in a matter of years. Or it might be decades from now, depending on how quickly parts of three highways can be brought to federal interstate standards, how quickly local governments can fund highway improvement projects and how hard Springfield’s transportation planners push for the status change.

Money is being spent to widen and improve U.S. Highway 60 in Greene County, but not all of the work is directly tied to the development of the future I-244. When it comes to making a better, wider Highway 60, getting several government groups together at the same table is necessary. Greene County Second District Commissioner John C. Russell was appointed to the Greene County Commission in 2019. He became the chair of the Ozarks Transportation Organization (OTO) Board of Directors in 2022.

John C Russell (Photo: Greene County Commission’s Office)

“One of the things that struck me when I first came onto the commission about four years ago was the collaboration that happens between various municipalities here in Greene County, with the county, the state and many times the federal government when it comes to transportation projects,” Russell said.

The OTO is a planning organization that serves the Springfield metropolitan area. It oversees the implementation of Destination 2045, a comprehensive plan for transportation for Greene and Christian counties that prioritizes road work from now until 2045, although the plan is updated at least every five years.

The OTO also designates what happens with federal transportation funds allocated to its member groups in the Springfield metro area. 

The map shows sections of highway improvement projects in the works or planned. Zoom in and click on highlighted sections for more details. (Map created by Shannon Cay)

The Springfield beltway: 65, 60 and 360

This may not be the first time you’ve read about Interstate 244. In 2013, the Associated Press and the Springfield News-Leader reported on a plan to improve U.S. Highway 65 and the James River Freeway to create a beltway around south and eastern Springfield, with the idea that it would attract more businesses to locate along the new interstate corridor.

The OTO supported the idea, but the plans didn’t take off. Natasha Longpine, the transportation planning manager at the Ozarks Transportation Organization, said one of the biggest hurdles involves the logistics of changing the names of U.S. Highway 360, 60 and 65 to complete a loop. 

“It would have to be done all together at the same time, and what that entails is also ensuring that all of those roadways meet standards for the interstate,” Longpine said.

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 created the first uniform geometric and construction standards for the interstate highway system. Some of the standards are that the road is at least two lanes in each direction, accommodates vehicle speed limits from 55-70 miles per hour, and lacks intersections. Limiting the number of entrance and exit ramps is a key standard to interstate highway design.

Most of Highway 65 in east Springfield, Longpine said, is at or near interstate highway construction standard. U.S. Highway 65 was subject to an $8.1 million rebuilding project in 2019. Contractors replaced highway pavement, built shoulders and improved interchanges between Sunshine Street and the Highway 60 interchange. 

Natasha Longpine (Photo: O.T.O)

“I think 65 is pretty close,” Longpine said.

“Obviously, we’re still doing a lot of work along 60, not necessarily with the goal of I-244 — a lot of those projects are just necessary.”

Whether it goes on to become part of an interstate loop in the near future or decades from now, the James River Freeway has been identified as a key site for redesign and improvement.

“I think we’ve identified some of the changes that would be necessary in the past; even just sign changes, there is a cost for the actual conversion once that were to happen,” Longpine said. “At this point, our focus has just been to make all of those actual improvements to 60 through town.”

Here and now: Key U.S. Highway 60 projects (and dollar amounts)

  • Complete: $2 million for intersection improvements at U.S. Highway 60 and Missouri Highway 174 in Republic — Two intersections were consolidated into one, new traffic signals were installed, creating an easier way to pass through the intersection or go to Walmart in Republic. A Missouri Department of Transportations study found that 29,000 vehicles per day go along U.S. Highway 60 between Republic and the James River Freeway/U.S. Highway 360 interchange. About 9 percent of that traffic is commercial truck traffic.
  • Complete: $22.3 million for James River Freeway and Glenstone Avenue interchange — An additional lane takes traffic in both directions on Highway 60 from Glenstone Avenue to U.S. Highway 65, and a roundabout on the south side of the Glenstone interchange makes it easier to navigate onto Republic Road, to Nature Center Way, or back onto the James River Freeway.
  • $21 million to widen James River Freeway from Kansas Expressway to National Avenue (Target completion 2024) — This project will include bridge widening over Campbell Avenue, bridge approach replacement in the eastbound lanes between Campbell Avenue and National Avenue, and an additional median lane from Kansas Expressway to National Avenue, allowing for a total of six lanes. There will also be intersection improvements at Campbell Avenue and Republic Road. Part of this project is funded through a MoDOT cost sharing agreement with the city of Springfield.
  • $25.5 million for U.S. Highway 60 interchange with Missouri Highway 125 in Rogersville (Target completion 2024) — An intersection will become an interchange with ramps, along with an outer road from Highway 125 to Greene County Farm Road 243. 
    • “The project will remove the traffic signal which has been the scene of many crashes, including some severe as well as one fatality crash,” a statement from the Missouri Department of Transportation reads. “By removing the traffic signal, congestion along Route 60 during higher traffic volume times also will be reduced.”
  • $8.2 million for sound walls in south Springfield (under study) — on the north side of the highway from Kansas Expressway to National Avenue.
  • Improvements to the intersection of westbound James River Freeway and Kansas Expressway are identified in the transportation improvement plan, due to traffic congestion. The cost is undetermined, as the idea is preliminary.
  • $1.2 million for engineering needed in I-244 conversion (under study) — According to the Destination 2045 plan, it would cost more than $1.2 million to convert the James River Freeway and part of U.S. Highway 65 into “Interstate 244,” and the conversion would start as early as  2029. It’s a low priority now, but I-244 appears in planning documents and has done so since the idea was first proposed in 2013.

‘They listened’ commissioner said of MoDOT

The governments of Greene County and Rogersville are sharing some of the costs with MoDOT for the construction of the U.S. Highway 60 interchange with Missouri Highway 125. Construction will start in 2023 and end in 2024. The interchange will have exit and entrance ramps, an overpass and an outer road. The interchange will replace a four-way intersection with stoplights.

“That has been a discussion point for many, many years,” Russell said. “It feels dangerous when you drive through. The speeds are high, and then you hit the stoplight.”

Rogersville residents and business owners were concerned about safety of some of the interchange designs MoDOT engineers brought forward. The Greene County Commission, the Ozarks Transportation Organization and the city of Rogersville all got involved in choosing the interchange configuration.

“To give MoDOT credit, they listened,” Russell said.

“They understood that we’re here locally listening to the concerns, and we took those concerns to them and they listened to us. But to get that done, we had to partner with them.”

Highway 60 looking west towards Republic from Kansas Expressway. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Drivers from Christian and Greene counties have 23 minute commutes one way

The average Springfield worker’s time spent commuting is a key driver for why improvements on and around U.S. Highway 60 are sought. The Ozarks Transportation Organization uses data from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau to learn about commute times. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the average resident of Greene and Christian counties spent 22.9 minutes commuting one way each day. Residents of Springfield, Ozark and Nixa proper all had slightly higher commute times of 23.1 minutes. The OTO also found travel delays were much more likely for afternoon commuters, even though they were generally going the same distances between their workplaces and their homes.

The delays were reportedly the worst from the center of Springfield to Republic, for commuters on James River Freeway in general, on Campbell Avenue south of Battlefield Road, on Kansas Expressway north of Kearney Street, on Interstate 44 in general and on U.S. Highway 160 from Springfield to Willard.

Greene-Christian growth 2045 survey by Ozarks Transportation Organization.

From now to 2045, Greene and Christian counties are expected to have a combined population growth of about 100,000 residents, according to the Destination 2045 reports.

While it can be one of the busiest, and sometimes slowest routes of travel in Springfield, James River Freeway has a low volume of commercial traffic. An Ozarks Transportation Organization analysis found less than 10 percent of the traffic on James River Freeway is commercial, while more than 20 percent of the traffic on Interstate 44, by comparison, is commercial traffic.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger