Our Chamber president, the Wickliffe mayor and a city council member and a member of our fiscal court attended the public meeting in Ullin, Ill., on June 17 concerning that state's newfound interest in the I-66 project. Not only were they given a rather cold reception, they also brought to my attention several misrepresentations and misconceptions being fostered to put the Illinois project in a favorable light.
To begin with, multimedia presentations there characterized supporters of a Western Kentucky-Southeast Missouri route for I-66 as trying to keep Illinois out of the process. Until the election of the current governor, Illinois repeatedly stated that it wanted no part of this interstate project. Among other concerns, they had cited budget shortfalls and problems with locating the highway through Shawnee National Forest.
Despite the administrative change, neither of those things has changed - nor were they adequately addressed at the meeting. Letters voicing those earlier denials are on file at the Kentucky Department of Transportation.
Secondly, statistics from the I-66 study of Eastern Kentucky about increased economic development and drops in unemployment related to construction of the interstate were used as pertaining to Southern Illinois. These statistics were not properly attributed, and were used without telling attendees that they were about Eastern Kentucky and had nothing to do with Illinois. Our representatives have heard other rumors and innuendoes concerning alleged support for an Illinois route, including a supposed about-face from business and community leaders in Paducah which we have found to be untrue.
Thirdly, not a single media story I or any Chamber member here has seen even mentioned the fact that Western Kentucky and Southeast Missouri have been holding public meetings and work groups on this project for over a year. Not one account talked about the fact that the consultants' study was effectively finished before Illinois suddenly decided they wanted in on this and sent a letter to Kentucky Transportation Secretary James Codell asking for consideration. It has been frustrating to see, time and time again, the efforts of more than 12 months of hard work with our Southeastern Missouri completely discounted.
We strongly urge the Illinois Department of Transportation to provide the source of the statistics used at their hearing. We ask that the media help us set the record straight. And we sincerely hope that our willingness to work within the original confines of the study will be remembered and appreciated when the consultants make their final report.
We believe the routing of a major four-lane highway from Paducah through Ballard County and into Southeastern Missouri is an absolute necessity for the region's economic health and well-being. One of our chief assets here is our location at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The bridges over those rivers are antiquated and barely adequate from a safety standpoint. They will have to be replaced even if the interstate takes a circuitous northern route. It only makes good planning and economic sense to build one new bridge into Mississippi County, Mo., and forego the building of three bridges in its stead.
The route I-66 will take is crucial to the planned development of our long-standing communities and businesses. It may, in fact, be the key to whether they survive the 21st century. It remains vitally important to the overall economic health of the entire region that we know the proposed final routing of this project and its most realistic timetable for construction as soon as possible.
John M. Wood, chairman
Ballard (Ky.) Chamber Board