Jackson is getting ready for I-55 exit

Almost everything about the new East Main Street interchange from Interstate 55 into uptown Jackson is up for debate right now.

The good news is, Jackson's leaders already are talking about it. Even more important, they're beginning to work with property owners on the project, sending packages to each of the five who own land that will be crossed by the new East Main Street, which currently stops at Oak Hill Road.

East Main's future and its importance to the city can't be stressed enough. It will be the third access route to Jackson from I-55, and it's the one that will lead directly to the heart of city and county government.

It's going to be Jackson's new front door. Most of it has been developed for residential use, but that last mile between Oak Hill and the interstate could be anything. The zoning hasn't been set.

In addition, millions in taxpayer dollars are about to be spent, a situation that merits close attention from both elected officials and all Jackson residents.

Missouri Department of Transportation officials put the completion date at 2006, quicker than normally would be expected because the city is chipping in on the cost. Highway commissioners authorized the $4.75 million project when they approved the state's five-year highway plan in July 2001. The state would pay $2.25 million of the project cost, with Jackson expected to acquire the right of way and pay half the construction cost of the interchange.

In addition, there's the construction of the rest of East Main Street, and the city is in the process of acquiring right of way. Officials are hoping property owners will donate land for right of way, because they won't be assessed for the road. The funding for that $3.5 million project will come from the transportation tax fund. In exchange, property owners could see their property values increase dramatically -- one longtime Jackson real estate agent estimated the jump at 10 percent -- as companies attempt to snap up land around an interstate exit.

Southeast Missouri State University owns three-quarters of the land around the interchange, and university officials say they're committed to turning it into a technology park and business incubator. Cape Girardeau developer Earl Norman owns the other quarter, plus another large piece the East Main Street extension will cut through. Norman's real estate broker said he envisions retail and service businesses on that land.

The other owners aren't high-stakes developers, but at least one has shown a great interest in the roadway's future. Georgia resident Randy Reutzel took the time to send a professionally done video to the board of aldermen and planning and zoning board on how commercial property can be developed in an attractive manner to match the town's existing personality.

Already, one important decision has been made by the board: The new road leading into the city will be boulevard style, divided by a grassy median. That is expected to improve the area's appearance and cut down on dangerous left turns.