Federal plan would upgrade some Missouri highways if approved

Monday, October 16, 2006

KENNETT, Mo. -- Parts of Missouri would get new or refurbished highways under a federal plan aimed at aiding distressed and rural counties in the Mississippi River Delta.

The federal Delta Regional Authority told a group last week in Cape Girardeau that it plans to upgrade a network of highways to connect industrial and commercial sites. The draft Delta Development Highway System plan requires congressional approval.

Cape Girardeau was the second stop on a five-stop tour in which the authority requested input from local and state officials.

The final list of highway projects will be released next month. The area the authority serves stretches from south of St. Louis through southeast Missouri to Louisiana.

The federal plan makes no mention of the long-coveted east-west artery known as the Interstate 66 corridor, which would connect Cape Girardeau with Illinois and Kentucky.

"That's our number one priority, to make sure that gets on the list. Whether it's this year or the next year or five years from now, it's in our interest and it's definitely in the interest of folks in Illinois and Kentucky to see that happen," said Cape Girardeau Area Magnet executive director Mitch Robinson.

The plan, not yet funded, calls for building or refurbishing 3,628 miles of highway.

Under current projections, Missouri would account for 14 percent of the roads in the Delta Development Highway System although it accounts for 11 percent of the Delta region's area, Delta officials said.

"We're becoming the distribution hub for America, but we don't have the infrastructure that we need right now given the hub we've become," authority co-chairman Rex Nelson said.

Nelson added that the roads would go a long way toward enticing auto manufacturers to relocate to the region. He also pointed to the already thriving steel industry in Arkansas.

"There's just a great potential for the steel industry here along I-55. You know, if you go down to Mississippi County, Arkansas, there's more steel being produced there than in Pittsburgh," Nelson said.

The Delta Regional Authority has funded more than 300 projects with $40 million since its creation six years ago. It also has used those funds to leverage $162.4 million from federal and state governments and $352 million in private investment.

Information from The Daily Dunklin Democrat, http://www.dddnews.com/

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