The dream started in southeast Iowa around 1985, when a group of community leaders started lobbying to improve the highways in their area. The nickname “Avenue of the Saints” was coined by Mt. Pleasant businessman Ernie Hayes. That dream expanded to create the 551 mile Avenue of the Saints, extending from St. Louis to Saint Paul. On Friday, July 25, the final 9.1 miles of four-lane highway were opened to traffic.
“Well, here we are,” joked Hannibal’s Tom Boland. “It’s only take a few days, and practically nobody was involved. It just grew up here all by itself.”
In reality, the completion of the three state project is the thanks to the effort hundreds of community and business leaders, elected officials, and a group of then-high school students from Canton. The SMART (Student of Missouri Assisting Rural Transportation) was created after a friend was killed in a traffic accident on Hwy. 61.
That group put pressure on MoDOT and elected officials, and the project completion date was moved up from 2020 to 2009. And now, a year ahead of schedule, the road is open.
On Friday morning, area residents and others involved with the project gathered with officials to celebrate the competion of the highway. The ceremony was held on the overpass near Running Fox Elementary, south of Wayland.
The highway will create safer driving conditions than the old, heavily travelled, two-lane road, and also allow for faster travel. In addition the highway is expected to be a key factor in the economic development of the area.
Among the local officials attending the ceremony were Clark County Commissioners Paul Allen, C.W. Higbee and Wayne Bourgeois, Kahoka Mayor Herb Bulter, First District Representative Brian Munzlinger and 18th District Senator Wes Shoemyer.
Representatives of Senator Kit Bond, Senator Claire McCaskill and Congressman Kenny Hulshof played video-recorded greetings from Washingon.
Members of the Ayer Boatman Post 4342 presented the colors for ceremony, and the National Anthem was sung by Elsa Scott.
Following the ceremony, a caravan proceeded down the highway on a “whistle-stop” tour, stopping in LaGrange, Palymyra, Hannibal, New London, Bowling Green, Troy, and Moscow Mills before concluding in St. Louis.