I-55 interchange project drives on to meet deadline

Saturday, September 27, 2003

The $5.25 million project that calls for extending East Main Street in Jackson to a new Interstate 55 interchange appears on target, as the city starts to buy key property and the state wraps up its search for environmental and cultural problems.

Officials working on the joint project say the much anticipated new entrance into Jackson is still on track to be finished in 2006.

Entities outside of Jackson are also keeping a close eye on the project -- it's a key component to creating a new east-west route along Cape Girardeau's northern edge as well as an integral part of Southeast Missouri State University's future technology park.

"This is the big one we've all been waiting for," said Jackson public works director Rodney Bollinger. "This is probably the quintessential traffic ingredient we've been looking for."

Design plans for the city's portion of the project -- about 1,300 feet of new roadway west of I-55 -- are complete, and city officials are sending packets of information to six property owners about acquiring right of way "as we speak," Bollinger said Thursday.

Bollinger said the city's part has to be finished before the Missouri Department of Transportation can build the interchange. He said construction of Jackson's part will begin next year when good weather arrives.

Andy Meyer, a project designer with MoDOT, said the state is in the final stages of doing an environmental and cultural study of the property that is required before construction can begin.

Within the next month, the report will be sent to archaeologists, historians, environmentalist specialists and other officials in Jefferson City.

"They'll determine if there's any resource in the project area that we want to miss," Meyer said. "Once they identify those things, we can adjust our design to avoid them."

Some things they look for from an environmental standpoint are endangered species or a wetlands area. From a cultural standpoint, they look for landmarks like historic buildings and unknown cemeteries.

For example, the Old Mc-Kendree Chapel, just off County Road 306, is on the National Register of Historic Places, Meyer said.

"So we avoided that," Meyer said.

Meyer said that Jackson and the state are splitting the cost of the $5.25 million project.

Cape Girardeau is involved in the project too. It plans to build a new section of County Road 618 to the interchange, creating a new east-west route along Cape Girardeau's northern edge.

"It's been on our major street plan for some time," city planner Kent Bratton said of the interchange.

Cape Girardeau is planning for its design work to be done next year and then to do right-of-way acquisitions in 2005 and construction in 2006, though the funding mechanism would hinge on voter approval.

It is being talked about as being paid for out of the next Transportation Trust Fund, which Planning and Zoning board members talked about earlier this week.

A ballot date is being bandied around to extend the Transportation Trust Fund's half-cent sales tax, with November 2004 and August 2005 being mentioned.

Southeast Missouri State University is also watching the interchange project closely, said Dennis Roedemeier, executive director for the Southeast Missouri State University Innovation Center. The Innovation Center is planning to open next spring at the First Baptist Church's education center on Broadway.

The Innovation Center will include a business incubator, Roedemeier said. When a business gets off the ground, they plan to move it to the technology park, which is to be built on the university farm, which covers more than 300 acres on both sides of I-55 in the vicinity of the interchange.

The technology park will also be home to businesses that are not started at the Innovation Center.

"We're waiting to get that interchange," Roedemeier said. "Once that interchange is developed, we'll be sending businesses out there."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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