Federal road funds make Ramsey Creek dream possible

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Lack of funding had placed the long-sought project on the back burner -- until now.

When Scott City leaders found out $5 million from the massive 2005 federal transportation spending bill would go to build the Ramsey Creek Bridge, they were ecstatic.

The bridge, years in the planning stages, will be a tool to connect two sides of the city now separated by nothing but a large field. Bringing both parts of Scott City together -- the city property along Route K and the industrial park -- will be a boon to economic development, say leaders. And it may help relieve Scott City's massive congestion problem where Interstate 55 connects with the city's Main Street.

That won't happen until 2008 at the earliest, but city leaders are nevertheless excited.

"It's always slower than I'd like to see it, since we don't work on MoDOT's time frame, but they're going through the process," said Mayor Tim Porch.

Preliminary planning has begun with MoDOT studying the area the where bridge might be constructed. Whenever MoDOT undertakes a $5 million bridge project, a lot of time is needed to get started. But a few years is nothing to Scott City, which has already waited a few decades to connect its northern industrial section with its southern residential area.

Discussed since 1970s

The city council has discussed the bridge project since at least the late 1970s, when city leaders recognized the need for another point of access to the north after the old U.S. 61 bridge was removed.

Ward 4 Councilman Norman Brant has a long history on the city council, serving intermittently since the 1970s.

"Back then there was some discussion, but really not much action taken," Brant said in July.

The story of the Ramsey Creek bridge boils down to funding. At $5 million, the project was not feasible with local money alone. Nor was money available at the state level.

But when city administrator Ron Eskew, who joined the city administration in 2001, approached the office of U.S. Sen. Kit Bond for funding he hit a bull's-eye.

Bond came to town, saw the congestion at the I-55 exit and the lack of connection to the city's northern section and got the money into the federal transportation spending bill.

Now it looks as if Scott City may get more for its money than originally expected. About $600,000 in local and state funds had been gathered by the city to help with its required 20 percent local match. City leaders later found that some of those funds, originally raised for other projects, couldn't legally be used to build the bridge. However, MoDOT had credits with the federal government from other projects, said MoDOT engineer Barry Horst.

So some of those city funds may be used for other improvements. One is the possible resurfacing of the outer road that runs through the northern industrial park.

Interchange connection

One improvement that isn't part of the project is a new interchange for Scott City from I-55. While the Ramsey Creek bridge will provide an alternative route out of town, its main benefit is opening up development near the city's industrial park, along with providing a way for emergency personnel to reach the park without having to fight traffic at the Main Street/I-55 intersection.

But the traffic that clogs the city's interstate intersection every morning and afternoon when people rush to school and work will still be there until a new interchange is created. City leaders have been pushing for improvements there for years as well.

"In our mind the intersection is part of this project," said Porch.

Horst said a new interchange off the interstate isn't directly part of the Ramsey Creek Bridge project. But MoDOT is working with the city and Scott County to come up with a solution.

"The city and county view Ramsey Creek as phase one in an overall plan to improve connections both north and south," said Horst.

City and county leaders have envisioned a new I-55 interchange somewhere south of the current one. It would directly serve not only Scott City but Kelso as well.

Scott City leaders are happy to finally get something done to help their town's traffic and development situation, but they see the need for more. They've already been waiting for years, and they'll likely have to wait a bit more for a new interchange, since it's not even in the MoDOT budget yet.

Even the Ramsey Creek bridge project is still in its infancy. A site hasn't been determined for the thoroughfare yet, and MoDOT is still consulting some parties involved. One is former Cape Girardeau mayor Gene Rhodes, who owns much of the land in and around the industrial park.

Rhodes doesn't yet know where the bridge will be placed, but he said he looks forward to opening up more property for development.

After a site is determined, MoDOT and Scott City will begin the long process of acquiring private land for the construction. Meetings with those individuals could start late this year.

The city doesn't want to take property from people, but they will work hand in hand with landowners to make sure compensation is fair and impact is diminished, Porch said.

"This is a whole lot different than using condemnation to build a retail center. This is something that has to happen," said Porch. "If we do anything other than doing something with the development of all this land, we've done a disservice to our residents."

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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