Giving up isn't answer to I-66 idea

Friday, May 24, 2002

By John Mehner

This is my response to your May 22 editorial concerning Interstate-66, the transamerica corridor. I am most disturbed that you seem to advocate giving up on a project that could (albeit a long shot) have immeasurable benefits for our area.

In December of each year, the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce sets priorities for the coming year at its board retreat. One of the top priorities identified for 2002 is "Work with all partners in securing an east-west four-lane highway plan for the Cape Girardeau area." We will continue to do that, and here is why.

Industry relocation and expansion magazines consistently list interstate or four-lane highway access in the top three considerations when making decisions on projects. An east-west route for the Cape Girardeau area is important for our future growth.

An updated federal highway bill will be re-authorized this year. While many people doubt if the transamerica corridor (I-66) will ever be built, it remains listed as a high-priority corridor in the current federal bill known as the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, or TEA-21.

It remains in the forefront enough at the federal level that a consulting group has been hired in Kentucky to study and make recommendations on the route for this highway through that state.

There are three leading routes at this time. One exits the state in the southern area and travels the Highway 412 corridor through Missouri. Another travels the U.S. 60 corridor through Wickliffe, Ky. And the final route exits Kentucky across the I-24 Bridge into Southern Illinois and into Cape Girardeau via the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge.

This final route, the most important one for us, represents the current language that exists in TEA-21. It is, therefore, imperative for us to hold onto that language. If we do not work to do so, there are other areas that would love to change this language to include their communities.

It is true that Illinois has voiced no support for this project and has even opposed it. However, I believe working with Illinois is no more challenging than attempting to build another bridge at the Kentucky-Missouri border.

Is this worth an $8,000 investment on behalf of the city? I think so. And, thankfully, so does the current council. We all understand the stakes are very high for our area. The benefits of a project with the potential magnitude of this one are immeasurable.

The Southeast Missourian's editorial said, "It's time to admit that the project is at an impasse, and there is little point of investing in it." It seems that the Missourian advocates giving up. I teach my children never to give up. What example would I set if I said, "Guys, things look tough. I believe this is the best thing for our area, but I'm just going to give up"?

Rest assured, there is a group of people dedicated to the good of the area that may lose a battle, but it will never give up.

John Mehner is president and CEO of the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce.

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