SIKESTON -- Two federally-funded studies will work to determine the best route for Interstate 66.
"One of them is through Kentucky at Wickliffe with a bridge that would connect to Highway 60," explained Sikeston Mayor Mike Marshall. "The other one they are looking at is what Cape (Girardeau) is proposing, which is building a new highway through southern Illinois that would connect to the new Emerson bridge at Cape."
Marshall said he is excited because this study is the first step toward making the much-needed interstate a reality.
"I feel confident that the study will show the best choice is a new bridge from Wickliffe to connect to Highway 60," he said. "We've been pushing for this new bridge for a long time."
Marshall said the two bridges in place now -- one which connects Missouri with Illinois at Cairo, Ill., over the Mississippi River and the other which connects Illinois with Kentucky over the Ohio River -- were built in the 1920s.
"They're narrow, they're unsafe, and they need to be replaced," Marshall said. "Cape got a new bridge not because they have a lot of traffic, but because it was old and that's the same reason those bridges need to be replaced."
Proponents of the southern route are proposing construction of a bridge south of the confluence of the two rivers where the two old bridges are presently located.
The funding for the studies, which will be sent by the Federal Highway Administration in yearly installments to the Kentucky and Illinois departments of transportation, was announced Wednesday by U.S. Sens. Jim Talent and Kit Bond and U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson in a joint news release.
"I'm thrilled to death it's been appropriated," said Dave Brewer, city manager of Charleston, of the studies' funding. "From what I understand, Congressman Ed Whitfield from Kentucky had a part in this. ... We've been working at this for several years, and we're just thrilled to see this happen."
Brewer said he is waiting on a news conference by Bond, Talent and Emerson to get more information on the studies.
"It would benefit Charleston, Sikeston and western Kentucky -- it would make a tremendous difference," he said.
Brewer noted the road between the bridge which crosses the Ohio River and Wickliffe is at times covered by water, stopping traffic.
"That has happened several times," he said. "When that happens, the only way you can get to Paducah is to go way around."
The funding for the two studies was recommended by the Delta Regional Authority which routes federal money to an eight-state region to improve economic development.
The four-year studies will receive $500,000 each to examine the competing proposed routes.
Marshall noted the value of connecting Sikeston, with its existing access to Interstate 55, with Nashville, Tenn. While only 200 miles from Sikeston, Nashville is presently hard to get to from here because of the highways between Charleston and Paducah, Ky.
"It's difficult highway travel there," he said. "We think an improved highway system through Kentucky -- and Kentucky is building a lot of new highways -- would connect us to Nashville in a way that would be both safer and quicker."
Marshall said in addition to improving the flow of commerce between Nashville and Springfield, Nashville is also an important strategic hub for the southern states.
Some information for this article was provided by the Southeast Missouri News Service.