I-66 study focuses on routes that bypass Cape and Illinois

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

A study of a proposed Interstate 66 that would link Southeast Missouri and western Kentucky is focusing largely on possible routes that would bypass Cape Girardeau and Southern Illinois.

Seven corridors are being looked at, with all but two involving building a new Mississippi River near Wickliffe, Ky., which planners say could cost $150 million to build.

The other two routes would cross into Southern Illinois. One of those routes would involve construction of a new bridge over the Ohio River near Cairo, Ill., and would then connect to Interstate 57 in Illinois. I-66 could then follow I-57 into Missouri near Charleston.

The other Illinois route would connect with the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge under construction at Cape Girardeau.

Kentucky is studying existing interstates to plot a route for I-66 from West Virginia to Paducah, Ky. What route it would follow from there into Missouri is the question. In Missouri, I-66 is expected to follow U.S. 60 across the southern part of the state.

The lack of interest so far by Illinois' political leaders and highway officials is a major reason why most of the possible highway corridors have steered clear of that state, say Missouri and Kentucky officials involved in the planning process.

Question mark on map

But Bruce Siria, the Frankfort-based project manager for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's Division of Planning, said the study includes one route that would have I-66 extend into Illinois on existing Interstate 24. At that point, planners have left a big question mark on the map. There's no route penciled in on how it would extend across Southern Illinois to enter Missouri at Cape Girardeau.

Siria said it would be up to Illinois officials to offer some suggestions. "It does buy them a little time to get in the game if they want to," he said.

But Siria said Illinois highway officials so far haven't voiced any interest in the project.

That question mark on the map was visible to the 30 people -- many of them Southeast Missouri economic development officials and civic leaders -- who showed up at an open-house-style meeting Monday at the Missouri Department of Transportation office in Sikeston. Most stayed only briefly.

Another dozen officials of the Missouri and Kentucky highway departments attended the meeting, which began at 5 p.m. and lasted about two hours.

Walt Wildman, an unpaid promoter of the project from Cape Girardeau, said the meeting offered no new information.

"The key factor here is Illinois," Wildman said. Illinois' newly elected governor, Rod Blagojevich, and the Illinois Department of Transportation must take an interest in the project if an east-west I-66 is ever going to go through Cape Girardeau, Wildman said.

"If this new administration doesn't get on board with this study right now, it is over," he said, referring to efforts by himself and Cape Girardeau civic leaders to get the new highway.

The Kentucky-Missouri study is slated to be completed by May. Siria said the $500,000 study, funded largely by Kentucky with federal funds, will recommend an I-66 route. MoDOT plans to pay at least $50,000 of the cost.

15 to 20 years to build

A Wickliffe route would require a new Mississippi River bridge, which could mean delays in getting funding, Wildman said.

Siria said I-66 could take 15 to 20 years to build. Wildman believes it could be built much more quickly if the interstate could make use of Cape Girardeau's new Mississippi River bridge.

Siria said Kentucky highway officials are looking at the project as a way to boost economic development in western Kentucky, which currently isn't served by a major east-west highway.

"If you can get a truck into this area, you can get industrial development," he said.

Scott Meyer, MoDOT district engineer in Sikeston, said the study plans to take a close look at a number of routes.

MoDOT isn't tied to a specific route at this point. "We just want the best value for the taxpayers," he said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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