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I-66 route is still in doubt

Wednesday, October 10, 2001

SIKESTON - Bill Green, director of Sikeston's

department of economic development, isn't opposed to

plans for Interstate 66 to be routed through Cape

Girardeau. "We just don't see it as a political

reality," said Green.

Cape Girardeau's advocates point out how close the

proposed route is to the new Bill Emerson Memorial

Bridge and "believe that since they are the largest

populated city in Southeast Missouri, that Cape should

be involved," according to Green.

There are two major obstacles for a proposed Cape

Girardeau route, however: Cape Girardeau borders

Illinois, not Kentucky, and Illinois "has absolutely

no interest whatsoever in being a part of this

project," said Green. As recently as six months ago,

Illinois "repeated its decision not to be involved,"

he added.

Taking the route up through Illinois from Paducah,

Ky., to facilitate a Cape Girardeau route would also

cut the westernmost Kentucky counties right out of the

equation. "The state of Kentucky recognizes the

importance of this highway to promote tourism and

economic development in western Kentucky," said Green,

"particularly those counties that border the river."

Although the feasibility study determined a

coast-to-coast highway was too costly and large for a

federal project, it encouraged states along the

proposed route to participate individually with the

goal of connecting as many existing north-south routes

as possible "to serve otherwise unserved potions of

their state," said Green.

Among the states that chose to follow up on the

recommendation is Kentucky, according to Green. He

predicted the engineering firm conducting Kentucky's

study will make a recommendation to the Kentucky

Department of Transportation within the next 12

months.

Green said it has already been determined that

Kentucky's choice for an I-66 route in their state

will run from Pikeville in east Kentucky westward

through London, Somerset, Bowling Green and

Russellville to Hopkinsville. A decision is yet to be

made, however, on whether the route will then go

through Mayfield or Paducah before reaching Wickliffe.

In the meantime, Kentucky is looking for confirmation

of Missouri's commitment - such as the completion of

Highway 60 and steps toward forming a bi-state compact

to build a Missouri-Kentucky bridge, according to

Green.

"This presents a real dilemma for the Missouri

Department of Transportation because they have to deal

with the realities of prioritization of their major

projects," he said. For example, St. Louis would like

a new bridge crossing the Mississippi River there as

well.

Proponents for a bridge at Wickliffe would like to see

a cost and engineering feasibility study conducted as

soon as possible so they have firm numbers to make

their case with.

Green noted the efforts of Betty Hearnes of Charleston

who has lobbied in high-level meetings for the project

and remained "a very faithful proponent for it for the

past several years."

Funding alternatives such as a toll for the bridge or

segments of I-66 have been proposed "to defray some

portion of the cost," said Green, as well as federal

funds.

"Federal participation will be an important component

of this," said Green. "They might be willing to

participate at some level."

Efforts to upgrade Highway 60 to a four-lane divided

highway running from Sikeston to Springfield to

provide a legitimate east-west alternative to I-70

predate the federal feasibility study for an

"East-West TransAmerica Corridor," according Green,

going back 15 years or so.

"Highway 60 is now either completed or programmed for

completion all the way to Van Buren," said Green. This

leaves only about 50 miles between Van Buren and

Willow Springs to be addressed. "We feel pretty good

about having been able to complete as much as we

have."