Let's face it, Interstate 66 will likely bypass Cape

Editorial written by James Baughn on Wednesday, July 9, 2003

from the not-in-my-back-forest dept.

Thanks to a change in administration, Illinois has suddenly started to lobby for the proposed Interstate 66 project to pass through the Land of Lincoln and cross the Mississippi River using Cape Girardeau's new bridge. While such a freeway would provide a direct link from Cape to Paducah that would bypass foul-looking Cairo and foul-smelling Wickliffe, the plan nevertheless has "pipe dream" written all over it.

In particular, a portion of the Shawnee National Forest stands in the way, complete with a large group of religiously fervent treehuggers that will do anything to protect every last square foot, every last tree, and every last poison ivy patch. That's a formidable obstacle -- and it's not the only problem.

If I-66 is routed through Cape, all of the intersections along Highway 74 from the new bridge to I-55 would need to be scrapped and replaced with real interchanges. Unfortunately, the bridge route was never built to freeway standards and would need to be seriously overhauled to become an interstate. Overpasses would be required for (at least) Sprigg Street, West End Blvd., Kingshighway, Silver Springs, Mt. Auburn, and Siemers Drive. The I-55 interchange would need new cloverleaf or flyover ramps. This is not going to be cheap or easy.

Meanwhile, the new interstate would have to pass through rural Bollinger and Wayne counties to reach Highway 60 on its way to Springfield. While everybody would love to see Highway 34 replaced with a real road that wasn't designed by an engineer who had too much to drink one night, this brand new stretch of highway isn't going to be cheap or easy either.

And that brings us to the final sticking point, the Shawnee forest. While an exact routing through Southern Illinois has not been decided, it's safe to say that I-66 would certainly cross a portion of national forest land. The SIU treehugging population is not going to take this lying down.

For people living in Southeast Missouri, it's hard to understand how environmentalists in Southern Illinois can be so tenacious and stubborn. Thanks to a well-funded Conservation Department, Missouri features plenty of public land available for horse-riding and ATVs. But in Southern Illinois, everybody is competing to use a relatively small amount of fragile land within the national forest. As a result, tempers flare, lawsuits and counter-lawsuits are filed, and the more radical treehuggers start setting up booby traps to keep the trail riders away.

If these activists can't handle the sight of horse riders, what will they do when the bulldozers arrive? This question assumes, of course, that the whole process isn't tied up in a quagmire of lawsuits and rhetoric spewed by both sides. By the time the last Federal counter-counter-country-lawsuit is settled, Kentucky will probably have already constructed a shiny new bridge across the river near Wickliffe, leaving Southern Illinois to continue its steady decline into irrelevance.

In addition to these obstacles, Kentucky also has two other compelling reasons to bypass Illinois and Cape Girardeau. One, the current US 60 bridges at Cairo are aging, and will need to be replaced eventually. A new I-66 bridge, combined with the existing I-57 bridge, would conveniently solve that looming problem. Second, the route between Kentucky and Missouri would be shorter, more direct, and would probably require less miles of new highway to be constructed.

While I would love to see a transcontinental east-west superhighway pass through Cape Girardeau, such a prospect doesn't seem likely. But even if I-66 is built through far Western Kentucky instead, such an interstate would still benefit all of Southeast Missouri. In particular, Cape Girardeans would be able to reach Paducah in style using nothing but four-lane highways -- without driving through Cairo.

The way I see it, the more interstates that pass through Southeast Missouri, the better -- even if the new highway bypasses Cape.