BAXTER SPRINGS - The Missouri Department of Transportation has declined to participate in a project which would have seen the Kansas Department of Transportation reconstruct the interchange on I-44 near Downstream Casino as part of a highway widening project in Cherokee County, community members were told at a public meeting in Baxter Springs Thursday evening.

The originally proposed $38 million project would have rebuilt the interchange in Missouri, and widened the Highway 166/400 corridor from two lanes to four lanes for about three miles north of the interchange.

The current proposal, which was agreed to Thursday, would construct a four-lane highway from the Kansas/Missouri border to Kansas Highway 166 and change the current US-166/K-26 intersection to an interchange with on and off ramps.

The cost of the new project is about $22 million and KDOT spokeswoman Priscilla Peterson said Friday.

Peterson said the remaining $16 million from the project would be used to purchase right-of-way along the highway for future expansions and corridor preservation.

She also noted the Quapaw Tribe, which owns Downstream Casino, has several projects in the works on the Missouri side which may have been a factor in MoDOT's decision not to participate in the project.

Quapaw Tribe Transportation Consultant Alan Mauk said the tribe is in the process of letting about $1.5 million in bids for various improvements to the Interstate 44 interchange in the area, including a lengthened deceleration lane coming from Joplin, a new light on the off ramp coming from Oklahoma which would turn green only when no cross traffic is coming, as well as various other improvements.

Mauk said they expected to let bids in the next week on the project with construction starting within 30 days.

He also said the tribe currently has a $4 million convenience store, truck park and campground project under way in Missouri.

Cherokee County Commissioner Richard Hilderbrand, who is working to extend water and sewer to the area to spur development, welcomed the road improvements.

"That just reinforces the idea of how important infrastructure is out there," he said, adding the road improvements, "open up everything."

Hilderbrand said the additional four lane highway will make the area even more attractive to businesses looking to locate warehouse, light industry or, indeed, retail business in Kansas along the I-44 corridor.

The problem, Hilderbrand reiterated, is a lack of infrastructure to support new business in the area.

"I think it's going to be very important to get infrastructure out there," he said. "That's going to be what holds (development) back."