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I-66 struggle continues

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Crowd smaller for second in series of meetings

SIKESTON - The crowd at the Missouri Department of Transportation's Southeast District Office for the second in a series of four public forums for the I-66 Corridor Study was considerably smaller than that which attended the first forum, but the struggle between Missouri factions for where the route should run was still evident.

The forums, organized by the MoDOT and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet together with the Federal Highway Administration and Parsons Brinckerhoff, a consulting firm hired by the two states, are being held to gather public input on the study of a proposed interstate linking southeastern Missouri and western Kentucky. Ideally, the interstate would eventually be linked with other state projects to ultimately create a coast-to-coast "Transamerican Transportation Corridor."

Barbara Michael, project manager for the consultant team, opened the open-house forum with a review of the study's objectives and progress.

"The purpose of tonight's meeting is to identify possible corridors," said Michael. "All possibilities are welcome."

Michael said the team was also looking for comments on the goals and objectives drafted for the study using input from the first meeting in the series held in May.

District Engineer Scott Meyer said the failure of Proposition B won't affect the I-66 study as it was not included among the proposed projects which would have been funded by the tax. "It wasn't part of the list," said Meyer.

Meyer said that even if the money was available for the project right now, construction couldn't possibly begin for another 7 to 10 years with all the environmental and right-of-way hurdles.

MoDOT's five-year plan still includes making Highway 60 four lanes to Van Buren, according to Meyer, but with no new projects to be placed on MoDOT's list, the section between Van Buren and Willow Springs will remain two lanes for the time being. I-66 is in Kentucky's six-year plan, however.

Three maps were on display showing three possible 2,000-foot wide corridors linking southeastern Missouri and Kentucky - two making their way to a proposed bridge at Wickliffe, Ky., and a third making its way through Illinois to the Emerson Memorial Bridge regardless of that state's complete lack of interest in the project.

Along with the maps were colored markers and an invitation from Michael to "pick up a pen and show us where you think the line should be."

Despite Michael's opening remarks, KYTC representatives and Parsons Brinckerhoff consultants explained the study area was defined to exclude southern Kentucky routes in favor of those running through Marshall, McCracken and Ballard counties due to current and projected traffic needs.

They also explained that some existing highways that might appear to be interstate-ready are not actually up to interstate standards. The Purchase Parkway near Benton, Ky., for example, has four lanes and restricted access but the median is too narrow and many of the curves too sharp.

One idea added to the maps during the forum proposed using the four-lane I-57 to connect Charleston and Sikeston instead of Highway 60-62 as shown.

Another idea showed the Illinois route going straight through the national forest instead of around it as shown by the third alternative.

Michael said all of the ideas gathered on the maps from the Missouri and Kentucky meetings will next go through an evaluation process after they are screened for the "fatal flaw" of not meeting goals and objectives.

The third set of meetings, which will seek input on the study of possible corridors, should take place sometime before the end of the year according to Michael. The fourth and final stage will narrow it down to a single recommended route.

Kentucky is hosting their second forum today in LaCenter, Ky.