Study for highway connecting Cape, Paducah to begin in January

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Work is set to start in January on a study to determine the best route for a new four-lane highway to connect Cape Girardeau with Paducah, Ky.

The Illinois Department of Transportation will oversee the first tier of an environmental-impact statement required by federal law to study route concepts and select a corridor for the new 40- to 50-mile stretch of road crossing five Southern Illinois counties.

The consulting firms Horner & Shifrin Inc. and Bernardin, Lochmueller and Associates were selected earlier this year to complete the study. It will be funded by a $3.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and a 20 percent match from IDOT generating a total of $4.5 million available for the project.

The study is behind schedule, originally expected to begin in July. The contracts with the engineering firms are still being worked out.

"It's not something out of the ordinary, especially based on a project this size. It's huge and we want to make sure that all details are finalized," said Josh Kauffman, IDOT spokesman.

After the first of the year, Kauffman said the contractors will set up an informational website, which should be up by early February, to keep the public informed on the project and host a series of public meetings mid-year to gather input on where people would like to see the route.

The Interstate 66 project through Southern Illinois is part of the East-West Transamerica Corridor, a national transportation plan first studied in the 1980s that would start in San Diego and end in Norfolk, Va.

The study area for this portion of the Transamerica Corridor stretching through Alexander, Johnson, Massac, Pulaski and Union counties contains many environmentally sensitive areas along the Mississippi River and Cache River Basin as well as the Shawnee National Forest and some areas identified as potentially containing archaeological resources.

The Environmental Impact Statement is required by the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires all branches of government to give consideration to the environment before undertaking any major federal action.

In addition to assessing the environmental impact of the new roadway, the study would look at reducing travel time, opening new economic development opportunities, improving accessibility to employment, higher education, shopping and medical services, and increasing tourism in the Shawnee National Forest and other nearby attractions.

During the first tier, consultants will analyze route alternatives and costs.

"This is a huge step forward in this overall I-66 construction process," Kauffman said.

It will take about three years to complete the first tier of the environmental impact statement, he said.

The Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce has long championed the need for a better road to get goods produced in Cape Girardeau distributed to the east.

"For years and years we have heard how important it is to have four-lane interstate access east of here to Interstate 24 from many of our major manufacturers and distribution centers and others," Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO John Mehner said. He is also serving as interim director of Cape Girardeau Area Magnet.

When companies looking for a new industrial site are weighing factors, interstate access is always at the top of the list, he said.

Mehner wants people in Cape Girardeau to attend the public hearings next year, and the chamber, along with consultant Jeff Glenn of

Glennview Strategies, is working to compile a list of interested parties, whether they are local manufacturers or simply interested residents who would like to get to Kentucky Lake more quickly.

It's estimated once the new four-lane road is completed, it will shorten the time it takes to get from Interstate 55 in Cape Girardeau to I-24 in Paducah from an hour and a half to about 45 minutes.

There will be ample opportunities for public input during the study Kauffman said, and IDOT wants to hear from Missouri and Kentucky residents, too.

"Input from residents, businesses owners and stakeholders in all those communities will be a major part of the study," Kauffman said.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

Alexander County, Ill.

Map of pertinent addresses

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