Interchange means new street for Cape

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Construction of the new East Main Street interchange on Interstate 55 will pave the way for a new entrance road for the city of Cape Girardeau, Southeast Missouri State University's planned life sciences research park and a new outer road along the east side of the interstate.

That vision of progress excites local officials, who say a new interchange will spark both public and private development.

Officials with the cities of Cape Girardeau and Jackson, the university's fund-raising foundation, Cape Girardeau County and the Missouri Department of Transportation last week announced plans to share the cost of building a new $5.8 million interchange north of Center Junction.

Work on the interchange is scheduled to begin in 2007 and be completed by 2008.

For the city of Cape Girardeau, the interchange will anchor a new route -- LaSalle Avenue -- that Mayor Jay Knudtson said will allow for future development on the city's northwest side.

"I think it serves as clearly our northern corridor and a road that the city of Cape Girardeau desperately needs," he said.

With the increasing establishment of subdivisions, there's more and more traffic being funneled into the city through the congested Route W and Lexington Avenue intersection, the mayor said.

LaSalle Avenue would alleviate some of that traffic congestion, Knudtson said.

The proposed 2.5-mile route would involve construction of a new street that would replace much of County Road 618, a winding asphalt road that runs from the interstate to Route W. Shade trees hug the shoulderless roadway, which runs past farmland and new homes.

In addition to the rebuilt road, there would be an entirely new section of the route that would extend through the university's farm, whose acreage is being turned into a research park.

"Right now we are talking about designing it to Super Two standards like Route K," said city planner Kent Bratton.

The proposed two-lane street, expected to cost more than $3.1 million, would have shoulders on both sides.

As early as 2008

The project has yet to be engineered, but road construction could occur as early as 2008, Bratton said.

City officials plan to fund the project with money from a transportation sales tax, assuming voters extend the half-cent sales tax for another five years in an election on Aug. 2.

The city has had a transportation sales tax since voters approved the first five-year tax in 1995. Voters renewed it in 2000.

This time around, the city council has proposed $20 million in improvements including nine major projects. LaSalle Avenue is the most expensive of those projects.

Knudtson said the recent interchange development agreement should help convince voters that the LaSalle Avenue project is warranted.

It also will lead to annexation of property along the LaSalle Avenue corridor east of I-55, he said.

The city plans to annex Southeast's land east of I-55 under an agreement reached with university officials, the mayor said. "We anticipate it taking place this fall."

The new interchange agreement also assures that Cape Girardeau will be able to expand along the east side of I-55, northward from Center Junction, Knudtson said.

Equally important is development of an outer road. Knudtson said local officials are seeking state economic development funding to construct the outer road which they are calling Technology Park Drive.

Must move dirt first

Meanwhile, university officials are looking ahead to development of their research park on what is now university farm land.

Dennis Roedemeier heads the Missouri Research Corp., an entity set up by the university to develop the life sciences research park.

While he's already trying to sell businesses on locating at the park, he doesn't expect immediate development.

Prospective tenants want to see there's an interchange first, he said. "In reality, you have to wait until you see the Department of Transportation moving dirt," Roedemeier said.

He predicted there will be some development of the research park within the next three years. Within five years, develpoment should be well underway, he said.

The research park would be built on 350 acres. Another 50 acres will go for right of way for the new interchange, Roedemeier said.

He said the proposed park will include green space and walking trails. "This park will have a conservation, environmental focus," he said.

Roedemeier already is working to recruit a major pharmaceutical company to locate here and conduct plant-protein research.

335-6611, extension 123

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