City - Push to finish streets for new schools

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Officials of the Cape Girardeau School District are being far too kind about the recent announcement that street construction at the new Central High School and the Career and Technology Center (total investment: more than $31 million) may not be completed when school opens in August.

Right now, Silver Springs Road is a two-lane blacktop that is showing the wear and tear of heavy construction equipment going to and from the school campus. When high school students arrive for classes this fall, they may have to use an alternate access to the school parking lots while construction of Silver Springs is going on.

The city's excuses for the poor timing of the street work are legitimate, but they could have been avoided. The city has found creative ways to speed up other projects when the best interests of motorists, businesses and schools were taken into consideration.

One of the reasons for strong public support for city street work in recent years has been a commitment to a list of projects to be funded by a special half-cent city sales tax. In addition, the tax lasts only five years and must be approved by voters for another five years.

The first five-year Transportation Trust Fund addressed the city's most urgent street needs. At that time, a new high school was years off. Each project included for funding is given a priority, and these projects are started only when the sales tax has generated enough money to pay for them.

But exceptions have been made.

The intersection at New Madrid and Henderson streets near Southeast Missouri State University was upgraded earlier than planned in order to accommodate students, particularly those using the university's new business college. And Siemers Drive through the busy retail area on the west side of I-55 was upgraded last year in time for the holiday shopping crush, again under an arrangement to move the project up on the priority list.

Given the timetable for construction of the new schools on Silver Springs, the city has known for months that this street project would be vital for smooth traffic flow involving hundreds of high-school age motorists. And the city repeatedly assured school officials that the street would be done in time for the opening of school.

Any project is subject to unforeseen obstacles that can cause delays. But this is one instance when the city's foresight fell far short, ignoring the public's likely support, with appropriate consideration and notice, for a plan to move the project up on the list.

City engineers have been able to speed up the paperwork, possibly cutting another two weeks off the anticipated completion date. Officials should examine any and all other opportunities to have the street ready for traffic when school opens.

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