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Wed., March 18, 1998

Lack of cash stalls road improvements

By BECKY VOLLMER

EDWARDSVILLE -- The good news is that the plans for improving Illinois Routes 157 and 159 exist. The bad news is that the money does not.

That was the message that Jim Easterly, district engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation, delivered Tuesday night to city officials and residents.

Easterly updated the status of several ongoing and planned road projects that motorists have been eagerly awaiting.

Some of the plans that have been drafted -- for example, the $33 million widening of Route 159 from Edwardsville to Collinsville -- have been around so long they now are "stale,'' Easterly said.

"We have the plans on the shelf right now. Unfortunately, there's no money in our long-term plan to build this project,'' he said.

But money isn't the only obstacle, officials said. Even when funding becomes available, they estimate the actual 159 expansion construction could take five years to complete.

Work to improve Route 157 also is unfunded, as is the extension of Interstate 255 (to be called Illinois Route 255) north of Illinois Route 143.

IDOT is banking on a federal funding package, which recently won approval in the Senate, to add about $600 million to the state's coffers. But even that's not enough to maintain the state's $1.1 billion road budget, which was higher in the early 90s, Easterly said.

State funding also is a problem; the last increase from the Illinois Legislature was in 1989, Easterly said.

"We can't keep up just by breaking even where we were six or seven years ago.''

One project that is on track -- at least in terms of having secured funding -is construction of the relocated Route 159, which will extend south from Main Street and connect with Troy Road south of Center Grove Road in Glen Carbon.

Tom Siekmann, project engineer, said he anticipates a public hearing in the next few months to introduce the final alignment, which he characterized as the "best for the least amount of environmental impact.''

One proposed alignment would have followed the railroad tracks that run through town, but officials said Tuesday that idea was abandoned because the corridor could someday be used for light rail.

Officials hope the relocated Route 159 will alleviate the heavy congestion along Troy. It is expected to be done by 2000 or 2001, Siekmann said.

Other projects the officials discussed included:

Improving Interstate 270 into Missouri. Easterly estimated all lanes should be open by the end of the year.

Updating I-270 from Route 157 east to where it intersects with Interstates 55 and I-70.

"If you've driven that recently, you can see it's starting to show its age,'' Easterly said.

Repairing Route 143 over I-55. IDOT is planning a $1.1 million improvement.

The so-called "south bypass,'' originally intended to run from I-55 west to Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.

IDOT officials said Tuesday the proposed bypass was "very far on the back burner,'' and a "non-player right now'' that won't help the city's immediate needs.

A new bridge over the Mississippi River into Missouri north of downtown St. Louis, which officials say will cost $500 million.

"That's one of the most critical projects to this area,'' Easterly said.

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