Routes for proposed I-66 narrowed to four

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Highway consultants conducting a $570,000 feasibility study haven't drawn a line on a map that would connect Cape Girardeau to a proposed Interstate 66 route, although they haven't ruled out such a route linked to the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge over the Mississippi River.

Consultants financed primarily by the state of Kentucky have mapped out three possible routes through western Kentucky that would involve construction of a new Mississippi River bridge near Wickliffe, Ky.

The fourth alternative would carry the interstate through Southern Illinois to the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge at Cape Girardeau, but consultants haven't tried to plot it.

Kentucky state highway officials say a Southern Illinois route won't be seriously considered unless Illinois highway officials indicate they will participate in the study by holding at least one public hearing and soliciting comment from the state's environmental agencies regarding such a route.

Until recently, Illinois officials had shown no interest in a route through their state. Though that position changed recently, hearings have yet to be set.

The yearlong study so far has narrowed the possible routes down from 22, Kentucky highway officials said.

Meanwhile, the Cape Girardeau Area Industrial Recruitment Association is looking at the possibility of hiring St. Louis highway consultant Lonnie Haefner to help promote a Cape Girardeau route.

The routes outlined in the Missouri-Kentucky study include one that would run essentially along U.S. 60 in Kentucky and then south to Wickliffe, and two others that would involve construction of a new road from Interstate 24 near Paducah to the Wickliffe area.

'Best of all worlds'

Bill Green, economic development director for the city of Sikeston, Mo., said any of the Wickliffe routes would serve his city, providing the community of 20,000 with three interstate connections: I-66, Interstate 57 and Interstate 55. "It is the best of all worlds," he said at a public meeting in Sikeston on Tuesday that focused on possible I-66 routes.

Green said it makes sense to bring the proposed interstate across the Mississippi River and connect with Interstate 57 near Charleston, Mo., ultimately providing a connection to a four-lane U.S. 60 in Sikeston which extends west across southern Missouri.

He predicted that a Southern Illinois route that would run from Paducah, Ky., to Cape Girardeau won't get the nod in the feasibility study because it won't serve western Kentucky.

Kentucky, largely through federal dollars, is paying most of the cost of the study. Missouri has contributed $50,000 so far to the study.

Bruce Siria, project manager for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said Illinois Department of Transportation officials so far haven't agreed to participate in the study.

The feasibility study could be completed by June, although it could be delayed until September if Illinois highway officials jump on board the planning process, Siria said.

Siria, along with other officials of the Kentucky highway department and the consulting firm of Parsons Brinkerhoff of Louisville, Ky., held the public meeting at the Missouri Department of Transportation office in Sikeston to discuss the possible routes with civic leaders and economic development officials.

About 30 people attended the two-hour, open-house-style meeting.

John Mehner, Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce president, has said the federal government won't spend millions of dollars on a new Mississippi River bridge when a new $100 million bridge is being built in Cape Girardeau.

But Siria and Green said they believe funding could be secured for a new $140 million bridge.

I-66 consultants said any new bridge likely would have to be erected south of Wickliffe to meet U.S. Coast Guard safety concerns. Specifically, the Coast Guard wants sufficient maneuvering room for towboats south of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, consultants said.

335-6611, extension 123

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