Plans for a freeway from the St. Louis region to southern Illinois are gaining momentum

ST. LOUIS — A southern Illinois mayor is leading a push to build a highway that could connect the St. Louis region to many rural parts of the state.

Murphysboro, Illinois Mayor Will Stephens first introduced such a proposal in 2018 through the Four County Highway Coalition. Half a decade later, the proposal takes on new life.

Map of the proposed Southwest Illinois Connector. (Provided by: Four County Highway Coalition)

Current plans call for a four lane rural highway through Monroe, Randolph, Perry and Jackson counties in Illinois.

According to a coalition map, freeway development would begin around Waterloo, diverge from a current path that runs through the heart of Sparta, and end around Murphysboro. The route would be known as the Southwest Illinois Connector.

“The impact of the Southwest Connector project on southern Illinois, Metro East and the city of St. Louis would be tremendous,” Stephens said. “The Southwest Connector would reduce travel time for Southern Illinois residents traveling to St. Louis for sporting events and health care, and create a safer route for all.”

A freeway could also provide more direct access points to the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds, Southern Illinois University, and some small airports.

“Southern Illinois residents cherish their rural lifestyle, but deserve faster, safer access to the world-class amenities that St. Louis offers,” Stephens said.

The proposal has recently built some momentum behind support from dozens of elected officials, local governments, unions and economic development organizations. Some of its newest mainstays come from out of state, most notably the city of St. Louis.

The St. Louis Regional Freightway recently sent a letter of recommendation to Stephens via the Southwest Illinois Connector, and the mayor’s office sent similar filings in support of the plan earlier this week.

“It doesn’t commit you to any expense,” Stephens said of the letters. “It’s just an expression of, ‘We think it would be a good thing if southern Illinois had a faster route to St. Louis.'”

FOX 2 has reached out to the St. Louis Mayor’s Office for comment.

According to Stephens, the plan also has support from US scythes Dick Durbin and Illinois’ Tammy Duckworth. US Congresswoman Nikki Budzinski from Illinois, who represents part of Metro East, also supports the proposal.

“With resources from the bipartisan Infrastructure Act earmarked for projects across the state, I’m working to ensure communities in central and southern Illinois feel the benefits,” Rep. Budzinski said in a statement to FOX 2. ” I was pleased to send a letter of support to the Four-County Highway Coalition’s Southwest Connector and I will continue to support projects that support our region’s economy.”

Funding has been a challenge in recent years for a project that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The coalition has applied for federal grants available through the Biden administration’s $1.4 trillion infrastructure bill passed in November 2021. Stephens says initial applications have fallen short, likely due to the need for some government funding to cover costs.

“The scenario we’re hoping for is 80% federal funding and 20% state funding,” Stephens said. “We are currently lobbying the state of Illinois to secure funding from the state. Once we do that, our federal applications will do better.

Stephens expects federal funds to be available through the Infrastructure Act for the next two to three years.

According to Stephens, if the plan goes ahead, the Southwest Illinois Connector could create thousands of construction jobs and attract more manufacturing jobs to the state in the long term. Plans for a freeway from the St. Louis region to southern Illinois are gaining momentum

Sarah Y. Kim

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