Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Forby Endorses Oasis Plan for West Frankfort

State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, endorsed the Little Egypt Oasis proposal yesterday in West Frankfort, according to the Daily American.

"It's our time" he's quoted as saying in the online headline.

The proposal by local businessman Scott Williams would develop the Little Egypt Oasis on the the Burlington-Northern railroad bridge over Interstate 57, immediately south of Route 149.

The bridge is privately-owned and offers development potential. The project also calls for a new road to be built connecting Routes 37 and 149 along the old railroad right-of-way which would create a southwest bypass for area residents.

Currently the presence of the railroad bridge abutments blocks visibility for the northbound exit ramp off of the interstate which has long been blamed for a series of traffic wrecks at the site — "blood on the pavement" as highway planners would note.

With the planned expansion of I-57 to six lanes between I-64 and I-24, the problem becomes even more severe. The Illinois Department of Transportation can either remove the bridge which is no longer needed for the railroad or move the ramps.

Initially they planned to remove the bridge until they discovered the state didn't own it. Buying it would immediately raise the price of the project by millions as it cost $1 million 50 years ago when the interstate was under construction. Today's price would be significantly higher.

Now, IDOT officials are open to Plan B suggested by Williams. Basically, this would split the existing diamond-shaped interchange at Exit 65 and move the two ramps on the south side, farther south to North Road, the next road south of the bridge about a 1.5 miles from Rt. 149. Then, one-way access roads would link the two sets of ramps.

It would be similar to the ramps and access roads in Paducah where you get off at one exit, and then go down the access road until you get to the road for the hospital or Whitehaven, the historic site that houses the visitors center.

I admit even before I heard the details of Williams' plan I was in favor. I love the idea of taking a long unused asset like the bridge and making it into something that generates economic development. We've got a lot of unused assets in Southern Illinois that just need some creative thinking applied.

I'll talk about the details in another post as it's got great potential to not only create a new tourist site in the region, but also help promote all the others.

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