The $8.1 million interchange will be completed in late 2007 or early 2008.
Missouri Department of Transportation officials called the groundbreaking that took place Thursday a "unique partnership."
Cape Girardeau County Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones called it a "lovefest."
After congratulating each other on their partnership, local, state and federal officials broke ground at the future site of the East Main Street interchange on Interstate 55.
U.S. Sens. Kit Bond and Jim Talent and U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson joined Jackson Mayor Paul Sander, Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson, Jones and Southeast Missouri State University president Dr. Ken Dobbins at the groundbreaking.
The interchange project was a years-long effort by Cape Girardeau, Jackson, the county and the university. Local officials lobbied for federal help to build the new I-55 interchange, and lawmakers responded.
Bond and Talent each earmarked $5 million for the project, and Emerson put $800,000 of federal gas tax money into the project.
"We don't ever get to celebrate this kind of unique partnership," said Kevin Keith, MoDOT chief engineer.
The interchange project was a dream turned reality for Sander. More than 100 planning meetings for the project took place over the years, he said.
"This will provide tremendous growth and opportunity for Cape Girardeau County. It could be the most important project of our lifetimes," Sander said.
Jones said several companies have already inquired about building in the area.
The project includes grading, paving and bridge construction for the interchange, which will be about 2.5 miles north of Center Junction. East Main Street will be constructed under I-55 similar to the Fruitland interchange, MoDOT officials said.
The $8.1 million contract was awarded Aug. 9 to Dumey Contracting Inc. of Benton, Mo.
Southeast Missouri State University will benefit from the project by turning the university farm into a life-science research park near the site of the interchange.
"The university is very pleased to be a partner in this project. When you look at what we are going to do here, it's exciting," Dobbins said.
Construction of the interchange is underway, beginning with temporary median crossovers and the two ramps on the east side of the interstate, MoDOT officials said. This will allow the contractor to excavate a hole in the middle of the project area and construct two bridges that will carry I-55 over East Main Street.
The city of Jackson has constructed more than half of its part of the project by extending East Main Street to the future interchange. Cape Girardeau plans to rebuild County Road 618 -- to be renamed LaSalle Avenue -- and extend the road to I-55. A consulting engineer is drawing up plans for the arterial street.
MoDOT officials anticipate the work wrapping up in late 2007 or early 2008.
335-6611, extension 246