Jackson, Cape look to interchange rewards

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Project will connect Jackson's East Main Street to Interstate 55

Combined efforts of various government entities was the driving force behind turning a concept developed in the 1980s -- an interchange connecting East Main Street in Jackson with Interstate 55 -- into a reality.

The future East Main street interchange will provide a direct route into Cape Girardeau and Jackson and is expected to provide tremendous financial benefits to the entire county.

The Missouri Department of Transportation hopes to begin construction as early as this October, said Andy Meyer, MoDOT project manager.

MoDOT plans to advertise for bids on the interchange project this June.

"Assuming we have favorable bids and the commission awards the contract, the contractor would have most of the fall to start working on it," Meyer said.

The interchange project on I-55 will include a five-lane East Main Street that will include two eastbound and two westbound lanes and a center turn lane. It will also have a dual left-turn lane at the interchange ramps. The new lanes will be constructed under I-55.

Jackson Mayor Paul Sander said the interchange originally started as a Jackson project, but the enormous costs meant more partners had to be involved.

"It was a long process of lobbying and negotiating to get where we are today," Sander said.

The lobbying and negotiating brought support from Cape Girardeau. Former Cape Giradeau mayor Al Spradling saw the potential the interchange could bring to the growing city.

Short-term, long-term

"The immediate impact favors Jackson, but the long-term impact favors Cape," Sander said. The long-term impact favors Cape Girardeau since the city is expanding to the north, toward the new interchange.

And that's what current Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson hopes will happen after the construction of the interchange. "I've never been more positive about that interchange," Knudtson said. "There is already more activity in and around that area than we anticipated this early in the stage. It's going to serve as a great addition to the area."

Jackson has already set aside $1.3 million from road sales tax revenue to extend East Main Street to the site. Last August, Cape Girardeau voters approved a transportation sales-tax extension that promises $3.2 million to rebuild and extend County Road 618 -- to be renamed LaSalle Avenue -- to I-55.

Knudtson said Cape Girardeau officials are in the process of hiring a consultant to review the best option for construction of LaSalle Avenue.

After Cape Girardeau was on board, Sander asked for support from the Cape Girardeau County Commission. In September 1994, the commissioners agreed to endorse the project.

With three governmental bodies supporting the East Main interchange, Sander went to MoDOT. He told MoDOT the interchange would be a tremendous benefit to the entire region, bringing in huge economic growth for the area. Initially, MoDOT agreed to pay 25 percent of the original total of $5.8 million project.

Down on the farm

Several years later, Southeast Missouri State University Board of Regents president Don Dickerson began discussing the possibility of turning the university farm located near the proposed interchange into a life science research park. MoDOT then agreed to pay for half the project after all government bodies handed the project over to MoDOT for final engineering and construction.

With various partners in the project, Jackson built the first phase of the East Main Street extension from Shawnee to Oak Hill. The project cost nearly $1 million and was paid for with a transportation sales tax.

In August 2005, Congress approved a new federal highway bill that included $10.8 million for the East Main interchange project. The money was earmarked by U.S. Sens. Kit Bond and Jim Talent, and U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson.

The $10.8 million in federal funds was nearly twice as much as MoDOT's original estimate for building the interchange. MoDOT then improved the design, increasing the cost from $5.8 million to $8 million. Any surplus from the project may be used to construct outer roads.

Meyer said the original design of the interchange would have eventually required improvements to meet traffic needs. "We went through several alternates before we settled on a design that will best meet the needs for motorists," Meyer said.

The first phase of the construction for the interchange will create ramps to divert traffic while MoDOT digs a hole under I-55 for the new East Main Street extension. New bridges will then be constructed over East Main Street, which will run under I-55.

This new design will create the best interchange on I-55, MoDOT engineers have said.

"There is a tremendous opportunity for economic development from this interchange," Meyer said. "Both Jackson and Cape Girardeau will see the benefits of it."

Sander and Knudtson agree.

The interchange will also relieve some of the traffic congestion from U.S. 61 into Cape Girardeau. Sander said there have already been companies inquiring about the property near the future interchange.

"There should be some immediate activity in this area, and that's very exciting," Knudtson said.

jfreeze@semissourian.com

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