Editorial

Highway 34 needs support and a big push

Friday, June 28, 2002

Anyone who regularly -- or even infrequently -- travels the twists and hills of Highway 34's 100 miles from Cape Girardeau to U.S. 60 near Van Buren, Mo., in Carter County knows how treacherous the road can be. There are frequent reminders along the way: Memorial flowers at spots where motorists have lost their lives.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has spent a considerable amount of time and expense looking at the Highway 34 corridor. Plans have been drawn up for improvements that include straightening the route, bypassing towns, widening the pavement, adding shoulders and even upgrading portions of the highway to four lanes.

Highway officials say there are no plans to begin construction of this project, which is estimated to cost $240 million in today's dollars. But any repairs, such as new bridges along the Highway 34 corridor, will be built to meet the needs of the overall plan.

There had been some hope among elected officials and motorists who use Highway 34 regularly that the planned improvements would be included on the list of MoDOT projects to be funded by revenue from a proposed increase in state fuel and sales taxes. That proposal will be on the Aug. 6 primary ballot. Many of these optimistic folks weren't all that surprised when Highway 34 didn't even rate a mention. After all, they've lived with one of the worst stretches of state highway to be found anywhere in Missouri since the road was first paved.

One reason for keeping Highway 34 on such a low priority list is the traffic count. Highway planners who recommend spending millions of dollars want to be sure each investment will benefit the most motorists. But, as old-timers along the Highway 34 corridor can attest, many motorists avoid the highway because it is a difficult and unsafe route. Even the thousands of visitors to such attractions as Clearwater Lake must drive a treacherous section of Highway 34 between Patterson, Mo., and Piedmont, Mo.

The recent history of U.S. 60, which stretches across southern Missouri from Sikeston, Mo., to the Oklahoma border, suggests major improvements to a highway will substantially increase the number of motorists who choose that route. Since U.S. 60 has been upgraded to four lanes across most of the route between Sikeston and Springfield, Mo., traffic counts have gone up dramatically.

U.S. 60 should be a major factor for Highway 34 improvements, particularly for motorists in the Cape Girardeau area who want to go west. Currently, driving to Springfield means going to Sikeston first -- or, as many motorists do, going north to St. Louis County and then heading southwest on I-44.

If Cape Girardeau ever hopes to have a good east-west highway, the U.S. 34 corridor is bound to play a key role by linking this area to the U.S. 60 corridor.

With most of the planning for Highway 34 completed, the main thing standing in the way of construction is an organized and concerted push from residents, frequent visitors to towns and tourist destinations and politicians along the route.

There is no good reason to delay the much-needed Highway 34 improvements.

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