Eleven miles are left until a four-lane highway reaches Pittsburg.

On Monday, several city and county officials from the area, local leaders and politicians gathered outside of Cherry Grove Baptist Church next to Highway 69 for a ribbon cutting.

Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce President Blake Benson, called the ribbon cutting, “a milestone event” in an effort to provide a four-lane Highway 69.

“An effort that literally dates back more than 70 years and has involved every single community from Overland Park to Baxter Springs, Kansas,” he said. “Having the four-lane is crucial for safety, growth and economic development of this region.”

Highway 69 Association Chairman Ken Brock said the ribbon cutting was a “celebration of progress.” Starting 2017, the Kansas Department of Transportation worked on expanding six miles of the highway, from the two-lane section south of Fort Scott to the Bourbon County and Crawford County line. The cost of construction so far is $21.8 million.

Brock told a few stories about what helped bring the construction so far into fruition.

The first one was about Governor Laura Kelly when she was a candidate for governor.

“We hosted her at our office for a reception … on that day, I asked her to take a look at a pledge, that if she was elected governor she would make every effort to continue with a four-lane highway, at least to Pittsburg,” Brock said. “She made it clear to me that day she seldom signs pledges, but she said she would make an exception for us and this case, she signed it.

“We took that as a very positive beginning of a relationship.”

The governor said the expansion will make the highway safer and more accessible.

Kelly said roads form the “backbone of our economy” and “serve as silent partners in our daily lives, whether that’s hauling good’s or hauling groceries.”

“While today is special we will keep our promise to complete a four-lane highway all the way to Pittsburg,” she said.

The second story was about Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner, (R-Pittsburg), who was a state senator in the spring of 2016, when KDOT announced the postponement or cancellation of 23 highway projects — and the Highway 69 project was one of them.

“Jake rounded up several of us from the association and said let’s go Topeka to see what we can do and options we can find,” Brock said. “We watched him advocate for us and he’s done a wonderful job and consequently we are here today on schedule.”

However, there’s more to be done, Brock said.

The ribbon cutting marked 76 miles of completed four-lane highway.

“The next 11 miles, will get us to Pittsburg, and then we will be able to drive from Pittsburg to Kansas City on four-lane highways,” Brock said. “Forty additional miles beyond that takes us all the way to I-44, we are getting closer every year and that’s exciting.”

According to Brock, a four-lane highway will reach Pittsburg within the next five years, but he said that’s a “Ken Brock estimate, not a KDOT estimate.”

There are many people whom Brock and the association thanked during the ribbon cutting ceremony. Brock said he wanted to particularly remember the late Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Dr. Jim AuBuchon, who was a longtime advocate for Highway 69 expansion and served as executive director of the Highway 69 Association, a group he helped form.

“He provided so much work and so much leadership for our road, we are really grateful for him,” Brock said.

According to KDOT, the next U.S. 69 expansion is known as the "Arma Connection." It’s approximately six miles long, starting just north of the U.S. 69/K-47 junction and ends three miles north of the north city limits of Arma. This project is scheduled to let in September.