Since the 1980s, transportation officials across the country have been planning for a new Interstate 66 to connect San Diego with Norfolk, Va. The TransAmerica Corridor would tentatively include Missouri and Kentucky. Community leaders in Paducah and Cape Girardeau have convinced their state officials to make their towns part of the route, which means a connector would logically cross the southernmost counties of Illinois using the existing I-24 bridge at Paducah and the new bridge at Cape Girardeau.
In August, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $3.6 million in fundng to the Illinois Department of Transportation to study the corridor from Metropolis to East Cape Girardeau.
Now Carrie Nelsen, IDOT District 9 program development engineer in Carbondale tells the Southeast Missourian that the agency will select a consultant in January to do the work starting in July 2012.
It's estimated the phase one study, which includes an environmental evaluation of five Southern Illinois counties the new roadway could pass through, will take three years to complete. Counties in the study are Alexander, Union, Polaski, Massac and Johnson.
"There are a lot of sensitive environmental resources through Southern Illinois and the project area," Nelsen said.
Those resources include wetlands along the Cache River Basin and bluffs along the Mississippi River that may be home to both endangered plant and animal species.
Because of the landscape involved the Sierra Club has already begun meetings in the area to drum up opposition.
IDOT will also be sponsoring public meetings to gain input as part of the planning process.
Meanwhile this winter IDOT and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be conducting LIDAR (light detecting and ranging) surveys of the five counties involved to get detailed elevations of the land.