By RICK HAYES
---- — MT. VERNON — A second artery to the west side of Mt. Vernon opened to the public on Friday.
City officials conducted a ribbon-cutting to officially open the Veterans Memorial Drive/South Davidson Avenue extension — about a two-mile loop — with curbs, sidewalks and a side use trail. The extension will allow motorists to connect from Veterans Memorial Drive to Illinois 15, on the south side of the Davidson Avenue business district.
The $6 million project was a collaboration of city and state funding — the state providing 83 percent of the funding through the Illinois Jobs Now initiative.
"It's the first day of summer and it's a hot, sunny day and a bright day for the bright future for the city of Mt. Vernon," said Mayor Mary Jane Chesley in her opening remarks. "This dream became a reality through the planning and partnership in funding that had been established with the city of Mt. Vernon, the federal government and the state of Illinois. This investment showed faith that the state and federal officials had for the future for the city of Mt. Vernon, and the high potential for economic development and job growth."
Development soon followed, the mayor noted, with the opening of new interchange at Veterans Memorial Drive and the opening of the new Good Samaritan Regional Health Center.
"I wish we could get as much done is Washington as Mayor Chesley and her team get done here in Mt. Vernon," said Congressman Bill Enyart. "Wherever I go through the district or in Washington when I talk about success I talk about Mt. Vernon. I talk about what gets done here. This is the type of government that we need and that our citizens and taxpayers deserve. Mt. Vernon has a terrific future and it's going to lead the way for Southern Illinois."
Josh McCluskey of the Illinois Department of Transportation, who resides in Chicago but formerly of Harrisburg, said this type of project means jobs, an improvement in quality of life, and a chance for the region to grow.
"This is an investment in the future, and investments in this region are always worthwhile because it's future is very bright," he said.
Bill Stanhouse of Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity added, "We applaud what you've put together here. We're here today because of the energy and vision that you employed here in Mt. Vernon. You are truly a model for the rest of the state and certainly Southern Illinois."
The mayor noted about 100 acres exist for future residential and/or commercial development.
Baxmeyer Construction was the general contractor on the project, which includes 5,500 linear feet of roadway.