Shawnee Parkway — New Name for a Decades-old Proposal in far Southern Illinois

Sierra Club is opposed to the Shawnee Parkway, a proposed multi-lane, high-speed highway to facilitate the trucking industry through a portion of southernmost Illinois. The negative impacts to the environment far outweigh any perceived advantages.

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Shawnee Parkway Study Area MapThe Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has invited the public to review and comment on the draft Purpose and Need Statement for the Shawnee Parkway Study. 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. The 350-square-mile study area includes several important natural resource areas that provide important habitat for federally listed species and migratory birds including migratory waterbirds, neotropical migrants and various raptors.

indiana bat

Indiana bat. USFWS photo.

Nationally recognized Important Bird Areas include Horseshoe Lake State and Fish Wildlife Area, the Thebes-area Mississippi Kite Complex, and Union County State Fish and Wildlife Area. Cypress Creek NWR is globally recognized as an Important Bird area and the Cache River and Cypress Creek Wetlands Area RAMSAR site is located within the study area.

Illinois Natural Inventory sites within the study area include Brown Barrens’ Nature Preserve, Berryville Shale Glade Nature Preserve, and McClure Shale Nature Preserve. Additionally, the federally endangered Indiana bat has been documented throughout southernmost Illinois, with known hibernacula within the study area.

800px-Mississippi_KiteThe biologically rich and diverse environment and natural beauty of the entire study area makes it an important place for high-quality outdoor recreation experiences such as hunting, fishing, bird watching, canoeing, hiking, camping, nature photography and much more. Impacts from a multi-lane, high-speed, heavy trafficked highway on outdoor recreation enjoyment include noise and air pollution, intrusions on rural viewsheds, and damage to the ecosystem recreationists have come to visit.

h_truckMajor highways cause damaging environmental fragmentation to the landscape. Studies have shown that reduced landscape connectivity and limited movements due to highways, particularly those with high speed and high traffic volumes, result in higher wildlife mortality, lower reproduction rates, ultimately smaller populations and overall lower population viability. The fragmentation effect of roads forms a barrier to movement where animals become reluctant to move across roads to access mates or preferred habitats for food and cover. The degree of aversion to roads can generally be attributed to features associated with the road, e.g., traffic volume, road width or major habitat alterations caused by the road.  High-volume and high-speed roads tend to be the greatest barriers and most effective in disrupting animal movements and population interchange.

Cape Girardeau, Missouri and the trucking industry would be the primary benefactors of a high-speed truck transit route through Illinois, while southern Illinois has nothing to gain and everything to lose. The region would not only suffer from the negative environmental impacts brought by a multi-lane highway, Illinois would forever be responsible for the cost of its maintenance. We have difficulty keeping the two interstate highways already running through the study area in good repair—it would be fiscally irresponsible to add a third such highway.

Southern Illinois would be better served by IDOT if existing roads and bridges in the study area were adequately maintained. Additionally, enhancing existing recreation and tourism opportunities would create construction jobs while maintaining the integrity of the fragile environment. We would like to see projects such as expanding the Tunnel Hill Trail into a web of interconnected bicycle trails and lanes, and hiking trails throughout the region; additional campgrounds and compatible lodging; and full staffing and educational programming at the Cache Wetlands Center.

Comments can be sent before March 15, 2016 to:

Jeffrey Keirn
Illinois Department of Transportation
Division of Highways
Region 5, District 9
PO Box 100
Carbondale, Illinois 62903-0100

Background

The Shawnee Parkway proposal is the latest in a long line of proposals going back decades for running a major highway through the heart of southernmost Illinois. The three most recent proposals began in the early 2000s with a Kentucky Transportation Cabinet proposal to continue Interstate 66 from Paducah, Kentucky through Illinois to connect to Interstate 55 at Cape Girardeau, Missouri. That proposal died when Kentucky’s Purpose and Need Study showed no economic feasibility to build the highway.

In 2012 Cape Girardeau initiated a $3.6 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation with a 20 percent match from IDOT (thanks, Cape Girardeau!) generating a total of $4.5 million to conduct a new feasibility study. This proposal was given a new name, 66 Corridor, but was otherwise basically identical. A Community Advisory Group (CAG) was formed and a Purpose and Need Study was developed. In early 2015 payments to the outside firm conducting the “study” were halted and by July the project was cancelled.

In November 2016 IDOT announced the current, Shawnee Parkway, project. The main difference this time is the endpoints for the highway. Whereas the previous proposals called for the highway to go all the way to Kentucky, this particular proposal ends at Interstate 57 between Anna and Cairo. Since the current study area was derived from the 66 Corridor Project we are concerned about potential future impacts including the development of 66 Corridor. Therefore, it’s imperative that the cumulative effects of potential future development be included in the Environmental Impact Statement.

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