Sikeston chamber supporting Cape, Interstate 24 connection

Thursday, September 16, 2010

SIKESTON, Mo. -- Sikeston wants a bridge to the east. Cape Girardeau wants an interstate to the west. Neither is likely to happen anytime soon.

An improved eastern route, however, could benefit both communities.

Following a presentation by Missy Marshall, executive director for the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce, Sikeston City Council members indicated during a special meeting Wednesday they will support initial efforts for a route connecting Cape Girardeau to Interstate 24.

Marshall told council members that Cape Girardeau is involved in grant applications to fund a route study and environmental impact study. As the proposed route would intersect with Interstate 57, she said, it would also provide the Sikeston area with improved access to I-24.

In recent years, Sikeston and Cape Girardeau have promoted competing ideas for a new east-west corridor, Interstate 66.

Sikeston wants a new bridge over the Mississippi River connecting Missouri with Kentucky just south of the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Cape Girardeau says it already has a bridge and would like to see the interstate replace Highway 34.

Both are costly proposals and, Marshall said, are "not going to happen in the near future."

A safer eastern route, on the other hand, "is a short-term goal we need to seriously look at," Marshall said.

Marshall presented the council with an official statement from John Mehner, chief executive officer and president of the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce.

"Our objective is very simple," Mehner wrote. "For the Cape Girardeau and Sikeston areas, we support a four-lane divided highway, interstate preferably, connecting Interstate 24 and Interstate 55 using the existing bridges at Metropolis and Cape Girardeau. This connection must intersect Interstate 57 so as to allow southern traffic the best access to the Sikeston area and Highway 60. Generally speaking, a southernmost route would be best for the entire area. This is an immediate need for our region. Supporting this position does not, and should not, deter Sikeston from pursuing the longer-term project of a new/enhanced (whatever you decide) bridge (which we support). Nor will this deter Cape from pursuing a longer-term project to improve safety on Highway 34."

If Sikeston supports Cape Girardeau's efforts, "it shows the two communities aren't fighting each other, we are working together to improve the situation," Marshall said.

As businesses in both the Sikeston and Cape Girardeau areas would benefit, she said, Sikeston chamber officials "felt like this was an opportunity for us as far as economic development."

Councilman Tom Hedrick said Highway 3 in Illinois already has a right of way to follow whereas other routes toward I-24 would require "blazing a trail."

Hedrick said while his preference remains for a bridge crossing the Ohio River, he can support a four-lane highway connecting Cairo, Ill., to Metropolis, Ill., along the north side of the Ohio River.

"They are not opposed to it taking a more southern route," Marshall said.

Marshall later added that Cape Girardeau officials are also not opposed to the connection between I-57 and I-24 being done first.

Cooperation is important, she said, as "Illinois doesn't want to deal with a fight" between Sikeston and Cape Girardeau.

"If we don't go together, it won't happen -- it will never happen," Mayor Jerry Pullen said. Pullen said he is in favor of supporting the route feasibility study.

Mike Marshall, a former Sikeston mayor and alternate co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority, agreed that cooperation is important and said that as long as Sikeston and Cape Girardeau are fighting, "politicians aren't going to do anything."

City manager Doug Friend he will prepare a statement indicating the council's support of route and economic impact studies; upgrading Illinois Highway 3 to a four-lane highway; and connecting Cairo and Metropolis with a four-lane highway.

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