I-66 bridge from Kentucky is best plan

Saturday, July 13, 2002

By William O. Green

SIKESTON, Mo. -- The comments made by Scott Meyer, district engineer of the Missouri Department of Transportation's District 10 in Southeast Missouri, in the July 8 front-page article, "State officials not sold on Kentucky link for I-66," reveal many of the institutional shortcomings which have combined to make MoDOT the least credible, and perhaps most irresponsible, state agency in the history of Missouri governance.

For the past nine years, a group of volunteers from Kentucky and Missouri have worked on the Interstate 66 project. The project would link Kentucky and Missouri by way of an interstate highway and promote economic development, tourism and commerce between the two states on a level which has hitherto only existed between Missouri and Illinois.

Visionaries in Kentucky, led by Gov. Paul Patton and his excellent transportation department, commissioned an engineering study to determine which of the several potential routes available to Missouri would best serve the interests of its residents.

That study is being conducted and will be partially funded with a commitment of up to $100,000 of MoDOT funds. Meyer's comments in the article written suggest MoDOT is opposed to any finding by the Kentucky study which fails to support the belief that the highway should enter Missouri at the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge in Cape Girardeau.

Specifically, Meyer is quoted as having said that another bridge south of Wickliffe, Ky., would not be "feasible" and "doesn't seem to be a good use of taxpayer money." An argument could be made that there is hardly anyone on the planet more capable of wasting taxpayer money than MoDOT. The complete lack of accountability and responsibility for previously unfulfilled commitments to Missouri taxpayers are well-documented, and it is not necessary to repeat them here.

But if Meyer is so concerned about the appropriate use of taxpayer money, how could he have supported MoDOT's financial participation in an engineering study, the results of which he has no intention of following?

We appreciate the fact that Meyer's actions are subject to oversight by the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. Have the members of that commission been briefed about his positions? Do they share his beliefs that the greatest economic development and tourism project ever to impact southern Missouri, the poorest geographical region of the state, are unworthy of his support? Do they know that spending $100,000 on a feasibility study which Meyer has no intention of respecting is a replication of the systemic problems at MoDOT which combined to create the political nightmare from which the department is now attempting to extricate itself?

Here are some things which both MoDOT and those in Cape Girardeau who aspire to discredit the Kentucky study should know:

I-66 will not be built in Illinois. The article says, "Illinois so far has shown little interest in the project." That's an understatement. On not less than two separate occasions, the Illinois director of transportation has written specifically that his state has "no interest" in the project. I-66 cannot be built to Cape Girardeau without the active support and advocacy of Illinois.

Kentucky is not going to shortchange the people who live in its westernmost counties (Ballard, Carlisle and Hickman) by pursuing a route that would meander off into Illinois from Paducah. The insistence that such a route be pursued would be to say that the interests of a few wealthy landowners in Cape Girardeau are more important to the Kentucky highway planners than the economic benefits conferred upon western Kentucky by I-66. By joining forces with those self-interested Cape businessmen, MoDOT has ignored the best interests of the people in western Kentucky and southern Missouri.

Before his death, U.S. Rep. Bill Emerson told me personally that his efforts on behalf of the Cape Girardeau bridge project were never intended to provide an east-west interstate route. His first and only priority was to provide a safer and more dependable access from Illinois to Missouri for the thousands of people who live in Southern Illinois and work in Missouri.

The fact is that Bill Emerson was always a champion of the connection of Missouri and Kentucky by way of a bridge into Mississippi County. He helped to organize the first public meeting at which such a notion was discussed at the Ballard County Courthouse in Wickliffe, which both he and then U.S. Rep. Tom Barlow attended. Later in 1995, Emerson helped to organize another meeting at the same location with U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield. Both congressmen expressed their joint support of the plan.

The Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge is not designed nor being constructed to interstate standards. According to MoDOT's own engineering staff, extensive changes in the design standards would have to be made to the approaches to the bridge before it could gain interstate certification.

There is also that little problem about Illinois defaulting upon its commitment to funding the bridge, and MoDOT coming to the rescue of the project by "lending" Illinois its share of the money. But that's another topic for another day.

Both MoDOT's previous chief engineer, Joe Mickes, and its present director, Henry Hungerbeeler, have been quoted as saying that if I-66 was ever built in Missouri, it would be built over U.S. 60. Why, then, have we had to engage in a game of hide-and-seek with MoDOT in order to get even a semblance of support for this project?

I-66 is currently being built in Kentucky. It will be built to Wickliffe. Sooner or later both MoDOT and the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce must accept the fact that in order for Missouri to participate in the economic windfall which this project will produce, we must look for innovative ways to finance our share of a bridge into Mississippi County.

We on the U.S. 60 Corridor Committee are prepared to begin. When can we expect MoDOT to join us?

William O. Green is chairman of the U.S. 60 Corridor Committee.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: