With a new interchange well underway, officials with the Agri-Business Expo Center are now directing a focus on further phases of the project.

Work on the $5.1 million access interchange — which will lead traffic onto the site from U.S. Highway 36 just east of St. Joseph — began in the spring and remains on schedule for a spring 2017 finish, despite only very minor weather delays to date. The organization itself provided $1 million in engineering costs for the interchange.

“This is outward visible progress the community can see,” said Patti Long, the Expo Center’s director of development.

Long said attention has begun to shift toward another priority, securing the engineering and funds to create connector roads on the property. The roads are estimated at $3.2 million and conceived as siphoning off traffic congestion from St. Joseph’s busy east side and spurring more economic development in the immediate area.

Yet an effort to locate money for that work through the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Missouri Moves cost-share program has been stymied, she said, by state budget restrictions.

“We’re not sure where we stand with that right now,” Long said. “We’d like it to happen as close (in timing) to the interchange as possible,” she said of the grant’s advantage.

Another initial-phase option for the connectors could lie in tax credits obtained from the Missouri Development Finance Board. Officials hope to sell enough of the credits to help underwrite the roads, according to Long and Sharon Cornelius, the Expo Center’s president and chief executive officer.

Funds also are being solicited from Friends of the Agri-Business Expo Center, Long added, with part of that success being realized in business partnerships.

Plans also remain on course for the networking of various infrastructure systems on the site — namely, water and electric services.

Cornelius said economic development will occur as the center takes shape with the infrastructure and eventually opens up for the community’s use.

“And as those that begin to champion with us, whether it be the city or those, the owners of property to the north ... we will have a strong economic development project to make a difference for years to come within this region,” she said.

Lehman Construction of California, Missouri, is the general contractor for the interchange and is working closely with MoDOT.

Ray Scherer can be reached at ray.scherer@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPScherer.