County commissioners meet Friday: Proposed Shawnee Parkway project addressed

<p class="p1">A deadline is quickly approaching for the public to review and comment on a draft purpose and need statement for a Shawnee Parkway study.</p><p class="p1">The proposed Shawnee Parkway was the focus of lengthy discussion at last week's regular meeting of the Union County Board of Commissioners.</p><p class="p1">The meeting was Friday morning, Jan. 22, at the Union County Courthouse.</p><p class="p1">Discussion at the county board meeting covered a wide range of matters, including the project itself, economic development, local property taxes, cultural resources and the overall future of the community.</p><p class="p1">The Illinois Department of Transportation, IDOT, is welcoming public comments through Jan. 30 about  a study related to the Shawnee Parkway project.</p><p class="p1">The idea for the possible development of a Shawnee Parkway in Union, Alexander and Pulaski counties surfaced publicly in the fall of 2015. The proposed project would connect Interstate 57 in Southern Illinois with Illinois Routes 3/146 near McClure and East Cape Girardeau.</p><p class="p1">A meeting about the project was held in October at Egyptian High School in Tamms. The meeting involved a Shawnee Parkway community advisory group. The October gathering was the advisory group's first meeting.</p><p class="p1">Information made available at the meeting showed that the community advisory group's members included representatives with interests in nine categories.</p><p class="p1">The categories included the environment, economic development, quality of life, agriculture, industry, villages/cities, small business, tourism and commuters. The names of 28 people were listed as contact persons for the various categories represented in the group.</p><p class="p1">Union County government officials were not part of that first meeting, which was noted at last Friday morning's county board meeting.</p><p class="p1">"We were not part of that meeting," Union County Board of Commissioners chairman Richard Cunningham said Friday morning.</p><p class="p1">Cunningham and Union County Highway Department engineer and superintendent Kevin Grammer now have joined the advisory group.</p><p class="p1">As of last Friday morning's meeting, Union County government has not taken an official stand on the proposed Shawnee Parkway.</p><p class="p1">"We have no stance, one way or another," Cunningham said. "We are going into this with an open mind." He said that discussion about the project is part of an ongoing process which is expected to continue at least through 2017.</p><p class="p1">Cunningham said that local officials are concerned with the possible impact of the project on the residents of Union County. As of now, he said, there are "many unanswered questions" surrounding the project. "Those questions are yet to be answered," he said.</p><p class="p1">"We don't want anything that will be deterimental to Union County," Cunningham said.</p><p class="p1">County highway engineer/superintendent Grammer said that the project would be addressed at future public meetings. He encouraged those at Friday's county board meeting to attend those meetings and to share their thoughts about the project. </p><p class="p1"><strong>Concerns Voiced</strong></p><p class="p1">Multiple concerns about the proposed parkway were voiced at Friday's board meeting by Union County resident Tabitha Tripp, a spokesperson for the Council for Responsible Economic Development, CRED.</p><p class="p1">CRED is a local organization which, according to its website, "is concerned for the long-term economic viability of jobs and industry in Union County, Illinois, and protecting the environment. We seek ideas that support our local agribusinesses, wineries, bed and breakfasts, cottage industries and the natural resources in the County and promote sustainable economic models that benefit current and future generations."</p><p class="p1">CRED's mission is "to promote and support environmentally sound economic development in Union County."</p><p class="p1">Tripp said that IDOT "has not demonstrated a need" for the parkway. She said that the project is being pushed by officials in Cape Girardeau. "Cape is hell bent on this," Tripp said.</p><p class="p1">The Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce  is one of the entities represented on the Shawnee Parkway community advisory group.</p><p class="p1">Tripp voiced concerns about the potential negative impact on such factors as Union County's environment and property taxes.</p><p class="p1">"A four-lane highway does not necessarily lead to economic development," Tripp said.  </p><p class="p1">Several of those who spoke at the meeting agreed that Union County has a quality of life which needs to be maintained.</p><p class="p1">Agreement also was shared regarding a suggestion that Union County needs to have a long-term economic development plan. </p><p class="p1"><strong>Petition Circulated</strong></p><p class="p1">A petition voicing support for a "No Build" option for the Shawnee Parkway was being circulated at Friday's county board meeting.</p><p class="p1">The petitions declares the Shawnee Parkway "will destroy farmland, bypass local economies, alter vital levees, cut through the Shawnee National Forest and other special natural areas, and disrupt the quality of life and recreation for residents and visitors." </p><p class="p1">The petition is being circulated in the community and online by Citizens for Southernmost Illinois, CSI.</p><p class="p1">On its website, CSI describes itself as "a network of people who live, work and/or recreate in southernmost Illinois who are concerned about the detrimental impacts to the economy, lifestyle and environment of a 2000-foot-wide super highway dissecting the most beautiful and environmentally sensitive part of Illinois. CSI has no governing body, no 'members' and the website, Facebook page, research, fact sheets, etc. are done completely with volunteers."</p><p class="p1"><strong>Evaluating a Need</strong></p><p class="p1">IDOT stated in a Jan. 7 news release that the "study is being conducted to evaluate the need for a new east/west transportation improvement from the intersection of Illinois Route 3/146 and Interstate 57 in Alexander, Pulaski and Union Counties."</p><p class="p1">A purpose and need statement is required by the National Environmental Policy Act.</p><p class="p1">"It provides the basis to develop a range of reasonable alternatives and eventually select a preferred alternative," the IDOT news release stated.</p><p class="p1">The draft purpose and need statement is available for public review and comment on the project website,</p><p class="p1">The deadline to submit comments about the study is Jan. 30.</p><p class="p1">Comments also could be mailed prior to Jan. 30 to Jeffrey Keirn, Illinois Department of Transportation, Division of Highways, Region 5, District 9, P.O. Box 100, Carbondale, Illinois 62903-0100.</p><p class="p3"> </p><p class="p3"> </p>

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