Illinois, Kentucky to study I-66 routes

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Cape Girardeau and Sikeston both want the highway, which they expect would be an economic boon.


Southeast Missourian

The Federal Highway Administration has approved funding for two separate four-year $500,000 studies to take a look at which Interstate 66 route makes the most sense -- either across Illinois to the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge in Cape Girardeau or through Kentucky to Sikeston, Mo.

The money will come in one-year increments of about $125,000 each year through 2010 to the Illinois and Kentucky departments of transportation. I-66 is the long-talked-about proposal that would provide a four-lane, coast-to-coast interstate.

Cape Girardeau and Sikeston both want the I-66 corridor, expecting the highway would be an economic boon and greatly improve transportation. Economic and civic leaders from both communities, however, said it was possible I-66 could come through Cape Girardeau and then go down to Sikeston.

Strong competition and even some degree of animosity has existed between the two communities over where the route should go, said Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson. Sikeston leaders see the route as a chance to replace its nearly 90-year-old bridge and Cape Girardeau officials see it as a chance to provide a clear shot from Cape Girardeau to Paducah, Ky., he said.

"Now you almost need a helicopter to get to Paducah," Knudtson said.

Knudtson and Sikeston Mayor Mike Marshall plan to meet next week to discuss the situation.

"There's a lot of people who want to make it a Sikeston-versus-Cape deal," Marshall said. "But it's a lot bigger than that. It's not us versus them. What's good for southern Missouri is good for all of us. I'm hoping the study will look at doing both, and that would be great. But we want a bridge and Cape wants a highway. So we both have different wants."

The funding was announced Wednesday in a joint release from U.S. Sens. Jim Talent and Kit Bond and U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson.

The Delta Regional Authority, which works to improve economic development in eight states, recommended the funding. The authority funnels $8.1 million in federal money every five years to dole out as part of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act, which provides money for transportation studies. Co-chairman Rex Nelson said he's delighted the funding requests were approved but that the authority's involvement basically ends now.

Sikeston and Cape Girardeau are both in Emerson's district, but she said the cities' differing views haven't put her in a tough position.

"Everybody's on the same page," she said. "We all realize we want an interstate somewhere through this area. We just want to figure out which one is best -- maybe both."

Knudtson said that a highway from Cape Girardeau to Paducah would make life easier on industry, especially Procter & Gamble, which Knudtson said "has screamed the loudest" about the poor road conditions east into Illinois.

"They have some real trucking woes to the east of here," he said. "I'm sure they're not alone."

335-6611, extension 137

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