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Interstate Highway System can still drive Missouri economy, MU expert says

Charles J. Nemmers, director of the CoE Transportation Infrastructure Center

By all accounts, Missouri holds a special place in the history of America’s Interstate Highway System as the site of an early interstate project.

Yet MU transportation expert Charles J. Nemmers points to the future when discussing the interstate system’s significance for the Missouri economy. An east–west commerce or truck corridor based on the region’s interstates could serve as a tremendous economic catalyst for the area, said Nemmers, director of the MU College of Engineering’s Transportation Infrastructure Center and a 32–year veteran of the Federal Highway Administration.

“The future of the interstate has great commercial potential,” Nemmers said. “The first states that get it right in terms of building a transcontinental truck corridor will likely reap large economic benefits.”

Certainly, Missouri has benefited in the past from the national transportation network inaugurated 50 years ago this month. While debate continues as to whether work in August 1956 on Missouri’s U.S. 40—now known as Interstate 70—was the very first or just among the first interstate highway projects, greater economic prosperity inarguably followed.

As of 2003, the trucking industry in Missouri provided one out of 14 jobs in the state, according to the American Transportation Research Institute.

Nemmers cites the NAFTA trade corridor, a north–south transportation route grounded in the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement, to argue the potential for growth that lies in an east–west commerce corridor.

“I think we’re seeing that there’s still that opportunity,” he said.

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