DISTRICT 10 CHIEF ENGINEER
Your comments in the July 8 front page article in both the Southeast Missourian and Sikeston Democrat entitled "State Officials not sold on Kentucky link for I-66" reveal many of the institutional shortcomings which have combined to make MoDOT the least credible, and perhaps most irresponsible, state agency in the history of Missouri governance. It is my hope that this letter will serve to set the record straight.
For the past nine years, a group of volunteers from Kentucky and Missouri have joined together to work on the Interstate 66 project. The project would link Kentucky and Missouri by way of an interstate highway and promote economic development, tourism and commerce between the two states on a level which has hitherto only existed between Missouri and Illinois. Visionaries in Kentucky, led by Governor Paul Patton and his excellent transportation department, commissioned an engineering study to determine which of the several potential routes available for ingress and egress into the state of Missouri would best serve the interests of its residents.
That study is presently being conducted and will be partially funded with a commitment of up to $100,000 of Missouri Department of Transportation funds. Your comments in the July 8 article written by Mark Bliss suggest that your department is opposed to any finding by the Kentucky study which fails to support your belief that the highway should enter Missouri at the Bill Emerson Bridge in Cape Girardeau. Specifically you are quoted as having said that another bridge south of Wickliffe would not be "feasible" doesn't seem to be a good use of taxpayer money."
An argument could be made that there is hardly anyone on the planet more capable of a waste of taxpayer money than MODOT. The complete lack of accountability and responsibility for previously unfulfilled commitments to the Missouri taxpayer are well documented, and it is not necessary to repeat them here. But, Mr. Meyer, if you are so concerned about the appropriate use of taxpayer money, how could you have supported MoDOT's financial participation in an engineering study, the results of which you have no intention of following?
We appreciate the fact that your actions are subject to oversight by the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission? Have the members of that Commission been briefed about your positions? Do they share your beliefs that the greatest economic development and tourism project ever to impact southern Missouri, the poorest geographical region of the state, are unworthy of your support. Do they know that spending $100,000 on a feasibility study which you have no intention of respecting once completed is a replication of the systemic problems at MoDOT which combined to create the political nightmare from which you are now attempting to extricate yourselves?
Here are some things which both MoDOT and those in Cape Girardeau who aspire to discredit the Kentucky study should know:
I-66 will not be built in Illinois. Mark Bliss' article says "Illinois so far has shown little interest in the project." That 's an understatement. On not less than two separate occasions, the Illinois Director of Transportation has written specifically that his state has "no interest" in the project. I-66 cannot be built to Cape Girardeau without the active support and advocacy of the state of Illinois.
Kentucky is not going to short change the people who live in its western most counties (Ballard, Carlisle and Hickman) by pursuing a route which would meander off into Illinois from Paducah. The insistence that such a route be pursued would be to say that the interests of a few wealthy land owners in Cape Girardeau are more important to the Kentucky highway planners than the economic benefits conferred upon western Kentucky by I-66. By joining forces with those self-interested Cape businessmen, MoDOT has ignored the best interests of the people in Western Kentucky and Southern Missouri.
Before his death, Bill Emerson told me personally that his efforts on behalf of the Cape Girardeau bridge project were never intended to provide an east-west interstate route. His first and only priority was to provide a safer and more dependable access from Illinois to Missouri for the thousands of people who live in southern Illinois and work in Missouri. The fact is that Bill Emerson was always a champion of the connection of Missouri and Kentucky by way of a bridge into Mississippi County. He helped to organize the first public meeting at which such a notion was discussed at the Ballard County Courthouse in Wickliffe which both he and the then Western Kentucky Congressman Tom Barlow attended. Later in 1995 Bill Emerson helped to organize another meeting at the same location with Congressman Ed Whitfield elected to Congress in 1994. Both Congressmen expressed their joint support of the plan.
The Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge is not designed, nor is it being constructed to, interstate standards. According to your own engineering staff at MoDOT, extensive changes in the design standards would have to be made to the approaches to the bridge before it could gain interstate certification. There is also that little problem about Illinois defaulting upon its commitment to funding the bridge, and MoDOT coming to the rescue of the project by "loaning" Illinois its share of the money. But that's another topic for another day.
Both MoDOT's previous chief engineer, Joe Mickes, and its present director, Henry Hungerbeeler, have been quoted as saying that if Interstate 66 was ever built in Missouri, it would be built over US Highway 60. Why, then, have we had to engage in a game of hide-and-seek with MoDOT in order to get even a semblance of support for this project?
I-66 is currently being built in Kentucky. It will be built to Wickliffe. Sooner or later both MoDOT and the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce must accept the fact that in order for the state of Missouri to participate in the economic windfall which this project will produce, we must look for innovative ways to finance our share of a bridge into Mississippi County. We on the US Highway 60 Corridor Committee are prepared to begin. When can we expect MoDOT to join us?
William O. Green Chairman, US Highway 60 Corridor Committee