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Freeway access to be limited during DDI construction

For about nine months next year, access to and from I-55 from U.S.
Hwy. 61 will be limited. The on- and off- ramps on the north side of Hwy. 61
will be closed to traffic as construction crews build a new diverging diamond
intersection at exit 99 (Center Junction). The on-and off-ramps on the south
side of Hwy. 61 will remain open.

Hwy. 61 between Jackson and Cape Girardeau will remain open during
most of the two-year construction period, but will be reduced to one lane in
each direction with head-to-head

This is the plan that MoDOT will submit to the Transportation
Commission for approval on Sept. 6. If this project is approved by the
Commission, it will go out for bid in November and construction will begin in
the spring. The announcement was made Aug. 21 at a meeting of the Southeast
Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The budget for this project is $16.4 million, up from the original
budget of $12 million.

In June, the Commission rejected all bids for the project because
the budget was $12 million and the lowest bid was $18.5 million. The
specifications of the project at that time required that contractors keep Hwy.
61 open between Cape and Jackson and to keep open all four I-55 ramps during

In order to lower construction costs, MoDOT discussed the project
with contractors and learned part of the reason for the high bids was the
amount of staging required to keep Hwy. 61 and the four freeway ramps open
during all phases of construction.

MoDOT then proposed closing Hwy. 61 between Jackson and Cape
Girardeau for seven months, but leave the right turns onto I-55 open. An outcry
from the two cities and their businesses caused MoDOT to go back to the drawing
board and come up with the latest plan.

“Our role is to work cooperatively with you, and not force a
project on any community,” said Mark Shelton, MoDOT’s project engineer.

Three concerns that were expressed with this plan at the last SEMPO
meeting July 26 were addressed by Shelton.

Shelton said there is language in the contract to encourage
contractors not to close the southbound I-55 off-ramp into Jackson until they “absolutely
needed to.” There is a milestone to reopen that ramp by Dec. 1, 2020, and there
will be financial incentives to get it open sooner.

Language will also be put into the contract to close the on-ramp to
northbound I-55 no longer than absolutely necessary.

A temporary signal will be installed on Hwy. 61 to allow traffic to
exit from the SportsPlex and turn east into Cape Girardeau.

Shelton said MoDOT realizes the temporary closures during
construction will “cause some inconvenience” but in the end, the benefits will
be worth it. Center Junction will have two new seismically designed bridges,
the diverging diamond intersection under those bridges will be safer and have
better traffic flow. In addition, the new intersection “will provide
opportunities for significant economic development,” he said.

Jackson Mayor Dwain Hahs said his biggest disappointment is that
the original plan that everyone had agreed to had a low bid of about $18
million and this project has a budget that would save $1.5 million to $2
million but it causes Jackson and Cape to lose some of its Interstate access.
The loss of Interstate access, he said, “will be detrimental to our
businesses.” He believed the loss of tax revenue to the State through loss of
sales by those businesses affected in the closure will be more than the savings
realized by this plan. “We’re losing a tremendous amount of access,” he said.

Gregory Dullum has worked for The Cash-Book Journal for more than 25 years. Prior to becoming the editor in May 2017, he was production manager, circulation manager and reporter. Before moving to Cape Girardeau in 1988, he was editor of the Saint Louis Park Sailor, a weekly community newspaper in suburban Minneapolis, MN. A native of Minnesota, he returned there after graduating with distinction in 1978 from Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, with a degree in mass communications. His wife, Marie, whom he met in college, is a native of Zalma, a small town in southeast Missouri. They have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. Gregory may be reached at

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