Drivers traveling Interstate 44 at Range Line Road (Business Loop 49) in Joplin will find new traffic shifts beginning early Thursday morning, officials with the Missouri Department of Transportation said.

The changes are the next phase in a project to rebuild the interchange, to be finished by late 2013.

Under the plan:

• Eastbound traffic on I-44 will be shifted to the new eastbound bridge over Range Line Road;

• Westbound interstate traffic will be shifted to the new median bridge over Range Line Road. The speed limit in the traffic shift will be 55 miles an hour;

• Demolition work will begin on the existing westbound I-44 bridge over Range Line Road so it can be replaced with a new bridge for westbound traffic.

This will impact traffic, MoDOT officials said. Beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday, crews will close one lane in each direction of I-44 at Range Line Road. Crews will then restripe the pavement in preparation for the traffic shift. Motorists should expect lane closings, shifted lanes, slowdowns and workers and equipment near traffic during the transition. By 6 a.m. Thursday, all I-44 traffic will be in the new traffic pattern, MoDOT said. In the event of bad weather and / or construction delays, the traffic shift will be postponed.

While all lanes of the interstate will remain open during daylight hours, drivers can continue to expect lane closings at night on I-44 and Range Line Road during the construction.

All lanes of I-44 and Range Line Road will be reduced to 10 feet wide. The speed limit on the interstate will be 60 miles an hour, while it will be reduced to 35 miles an hour on Range Line Road. Speeding in the work zone when workers are present will add $250 to the total fine for motorists who are ticketed. Signs will be posted with that warning.

The project will add new bridges on I-44 over Range Line Road. New traffic signals will be installed on Range Line Road at I-44 ramps, and the goal is to convert Range Line traffic under the interstate to the diverging Diamond interchange.

Contractor for the $8 million project is Emery Sapp and Sons of Columbia.