Sikeston mayor seeks new bridge

Wednesday, September 19, 2007
The Mississippi River Bridge on U.S. Highway 60/62 at Cairo, Ill. (Fred Lynch)

SIKESTON, Mo. -- The crowd of more 130 people gathered at the Clinton Community Building in Sikeston on Tuesday had a single purpose: to get a new bridge.

Sikeston Mayor Mike Marshall called the meeting a bridge summit. He wants to see a new bridge between Missouri and Kentucky.

He called the current bridges nearest Sikeston, on highways 60 and 51 and which connect Missouri and Kentucky through Cairo, Ill., "old, extremely narrow and dangerously unsafe." Among those who attended were government officials from Missouri and Kentucky, business owners, truck drivers, other private citizens and U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson's chief of staff, Lloyd Smith.

"I fully support a new bridge that will connect Southeast Missouri, Southern Illinois and western Kentucky primarily because of safety concerns but also the benefits that this improvement will have for business and commerce for years to come," Smith told the crowd.

Speaker after speaker said the same, some suggesting a new bridge would be a natural route for an interstate. Every speaker drew applause.

Kentucky's transportation officials weren't at the meeting, said Keith Todd, spokesman for Kentucky Department of Highways districts 1 and 2, because "we are mandated by the legislature to follow the six-year road plan, so we are legislatively driven as opposed to being engineering driven."

But Todd took exception to claims the bridge was dangerous. "There's still a lot of safe left in that bridge," he said by phone Tuesday.

Mark Shelton, district engineer with the Missouri Department of Transportation, attended the meeting and was also troubled by the claims, which have been fueled by the fact the bridge from Mississippi County, Mo., to Alexander County, Ill., has a sufficiency rating of 18.6 percent out of a possible 100 and the Cairo-Wickliffe bridge over the Ohio is rated at 20.1 percent.

Donnie Brown, New Madrid County highway engineer and mayor of New Madrid, said the bridge's sufficiency rating was not likely to rise.

"If we start today, we've got five years of studies," he said, referring to the time needed for fund raising, feasibility studies, land acquisition and design work.

"Do you want to take your family over that bridge when the number is 10?" he said.

After the meeting, Shelton said the Cairo-Wickliffe bridge received a safety rating of six, out of a possible nine, during a thorough inspection last year and that from a structural standpoint it "is in no danger of collapsing."

He said sufficiency ratings measured such categories as condition, traffic count, width and approach.

"It's a 20-foot-wide bridge with curves at each end," he said, adding that such a bridge would not be built today. But he said applying current standards to older bridges was akin to evaluating a working 1975-era pickup truck by the standards of a new model.

Representatives from three businesses -- Noranda, Burch Foods and Pullen Trucking Co. -- said they wanted a new bridge for safety reasons.

Marshall ended the meeting by saying "I'm going to tell you one thing: I'm going to get us a new bridge."

Of those who attended, two dozen signed up to create an action plan.

pmcnichol@semissiourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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