THE completion of two lanes of the much-anticipated Macomb Bypass is among the best news for West-Central Illinois in years.
Work on the 7.1-mile stretch of Ill. 336 began three years ago, and in addition to the two lanes, included the construction of several overpasses and two wildlife crossings. It now connects the highway on the west edge of Macomb to U.S. 67 to north.
At the most granular level, that will keep traffic off Macomb streets, particularly semitrailers. That's a big concern as traffic on the highway has increased, Macomb Mayor Mike Inman said at the June 1 ribbon-cutting for the highway. It's a topic close to Inman's heart. As a former Illinois State Police trooper, he saw his share of crashes involving big trucks on the highway.
Looking from a higher vantage point, though, reveals a much grander goal and purpose for the highway: greater economic growth for Macomb and the area as a whole.
The bypass represents the final piece of the Chicago-Kansas City Expressway, a major highway corridor first envisioned in the 1950s.
This economic potential of this route has long been recognized, though it has taken decades to come this close to completion.
Which is to say that finishing the final piece -- the remaining two lanes of the bypass -- should wait no longer.
The importance of the project drew Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner to Macomb for the ribbon-cutting.
"People have been working on this for 60 years," he said at the ceremony. "It's going to improve the quality of life in Macomb and improve the economy as well."
Clearly, he understands the benefits of the project, and we applaud him for that.
Being this close to the finish line, though, is no reason for anyone involved in the effort thus far to rest.
The bypass was designed as a four-lane, divided highway, and Illinois Department of Transportation officials pledged years ago to complete the project.
Speaking at the ceremony June 1, Rauner repeated that pledge: "We're going to go to four lanes here."
Those four lanes remain an estimated $30 million away.
The tireless efforts of people like retired Herald-Whig Publisher Thomas A. Oakley, a member of the Tri-State Development Summit's Transportation Task Force, have helped shepherd the project this far.
It's time for Rauner, IDOT and our local lawmakers in Springfield to finish the push. There is perhaps nothing so important for this region to draw their focus other than this critical project.
"Illinois is the heart of transportation in this country," Rauner said at the bypass opening.
Let's hope that our leaders and officials in Springfield do everything in their power to keep that heart beating in West-Central Illinois.