Over the bridge

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Remember the old bridge across the Mississippi River between Cape Girardeau and East Cape Girardeau, Ill.? Remember the narrow lanes, the shaking and rattling, the holes in the pavement, the stalled 18-wheelers trying to pass?

When vehicles started gliding across the spacious four lanes of the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge three years ago, there was a feeling that more motorists would take advantage of the $200 million structure. But Missouri Department of Transportation figures indicate there has been no increase in traffic across the river -- and even a slight dip, depending on which figures you use.

There's a simple explanation for the traffic counts, several Cape Girardeau officials say. The new bridge is serving the same geographic area as the old bridge. To maximize the new bridge's interstate-highway capacity, they say, the bridge needs a highway connection east to Paducah and to the west.

Earlier this month, the Delta Regional Authority had a meeting in Cape Girardeau to talk about a network of highways in the eight-state areas it serves to boost industrial and business development.

Local officials say getting an east-west highway that connects with the new bridge on the Delta Regional Authority's list of highway projects is a top priority.

Meanwhile, the authority has recommended grants to Illinois and Kentucky for feasibility studies for just such a highway.

With this much interest in the bridge and connecting highways, perhaps MoDOT's three-year-old estimate of 26,000 vehicles a day -- more than twice the current traffic count -- over the new bridge isn't so farfetched.

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