I-255 extension opens for Metro East
By GARY SCHNEIDER
Of the Intelligencer
WOOD RIVER &emdash; "I think this is wonderful. I'm as
pleased as punch for what this means to the area," State
Sen. Evelyn Bowles, D-Edwardsville, said after watching
Illinois Governor Jim Edgar offically open a new 6.8-mile
stretch of Route 255 from Interstate 270 north to Illinois
143 near Wood River Tuesday morning.
The new highway, titled Illinois Route 255 instead of
Interstate 255 because no interstate funds were involved, is
the first phase of what is to become the Alton Bypass, going
around Alton to Grafton. It officially opened to traffic
after the 11 a.m. ceremony and was heavily traveled by the
evening rush hour Tuesday.
In cutting the ribbon to open the $88.7 million stretch
of highway, Edgar told the crowd of several hundred local
leaders, "This highway is an important addition to the
transportation infrastructure of the Metro-East area. It
will provide a valuable corridor of economic growth between
Alton and Interstate 270 and is a vital link to the
interstate system around the greater St. Louis region."
The governor continued, "Illinois 255 also will provide
much needed relief to traffic congestion on existing state
highways and local roads in the area. We estimate that 8,000
vehicles per day will use this highway when it is opened,
and that number is expected to increase to more than 28,000
vehicles per day within 10 years."
Speaking to reporters, Edgar said he is opposed to using
any of the $3.2 billion state surplus at the end of the
fiscal year for further highway improvements. "Highways
should be funded by highway tax dollars. That is my
position," he said.
"For the first time in modern history, we have a cash
balance that is close to adequate. When you see what is
happening internationally, we might be glad we have that. I
wish we had that kind of cushion when I took office," the
Commenting on the need for funds for Route 159
improvements and the continuation of Route 255 to Godfrey,
Edgar said, "a gas tax (increase) is possible, but you won't
have many legislators say that in the next three weeks,"
referring to the Nov. 3 election approaching.
Edgar told reporters he feels it will be about 10 years
before Route 255 is completed. "We don't have growth in our
(highway) taxes now. Gasoline prices are down, so our
revenue is down," he said.
Edgar told the crowd that engineering and land
acquisition is proceeding for extensions of 255 from the new
end point to Illinois 267 at Godfrey, north of Alton. That
15 mile stretch is expected to cost about $200 million.
State Rep. Jay Hoffman told reporters at the scene of the
opening ceremony above Madison Avenue east of South Roxana
that the next phase of the Route 255 project will cost about
$80 million. "This and the Route 159 project should be top
priorities in the coming years," but he warned, "We have to
stop diverting money out of road funds to other areas. After
the election, we need to sit down and see how we can do
Hoffman said the Route 159 improvements would cost only
about $30 million, and $7 million already has been
"We should look at doing Route 159 in stages, if not all
at once," Hoffman said.
Bowles said she recognizes, "there is only so much money
in the pot, but Madison County has had the short end of the
stick for such a long time, we're just beginning to get our
She warned that there are those in the legislature who
want to divert highway funds for an airport or for other
projects. "I understand the cost of highway construction is
extremely expensive, but we have to find a way to pay for
it," she said.
The new section of Route 255 opened Tuesday began with
design work in June 1993. The project required 24 bridges to
be built, 3.3 million cubic yards of earth to be moved and
300,000 tons of asphalt to be placed for the four-lane
facility. Major interchanges were constructed at Poag Road
and Madison Avenue near South Roxana.