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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Public urged to call MoDOT about district office closing

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Oregon County Presiding Commissioner Patrick Ledgerwood is drafting his concerns about the state shutting down a local district transportation office.

Ledgerwood wants residents to do the same.

Earlier this month at a Jefferson City commission meeting, Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) Director Kevin Keith said the state has decided to close many district offices across the state to offset declining revenue.

Ledgerwood attended that meeting, and later spoke against MoDOT's plan to shut down the District 9 office in Willow Springs.

"It's really important for people to call and write letters," Ledgerwood said Monday, May 9, of MoDOT's public comment period that ends in early June. "It may be a 'done deal,' but people should let MoDOT know their concerns."

Proposed changes

With the closing, Oregon County will lose the MoDOT maintenance barn in Thayer, yet retain the Alton barn. A third maintenance barn in Garfield was closed years ago.

MoDOT is proposing closing 135 facilities statewide, selling more than 700 pieces of equipment and downsizing by about 1,200 workers. By 2015, the move will save the state about $512 million that can be used for road and bridge projects, Keith said.

The department's plan includes reducing the number of its district offices, which administer the state's transportation program at the regional level, from 10 to seven.

MoDOT's current district boundaries have been virtually unchanged since 1922, when many state roads were still gravel and MoDOT used mules and wagons, Keith said in a prepared statement.

For at least the past year, MoDOT entered into a "maintenance only" mode and rejected proposals for new construction projects. The newest money-saving plan is part of what MoDOT calls its "Bolder Five-Year Direction."

Keith said the new proposal is financially necessary.

"The bottom line is, we are facing a transportation crisis in Missouri and the inability to match federal funds down the road," Keith said.

The state's construction program has gone from averaging $1.2 billion over the past five years to half that amount now and in the coming years. Operating costs are rising dramatically, he said.

"And, there's no good news in sight," Keith said. "Gas is approaching $4 a gallon. Congress has made no progress on establishing a long-term federal highway bill, leaving states uncertain about their funding future. The federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for many state road and bridge projects, is insolvent. The federal trust fund has needed three infusions of general revenue just to pay the current bills."

The public also is absolutely not interested in raising revenue for transportation, Keith said.

Since last year, MoDOT has reduced its workforce by 340 employees, saving $64 million for road maintenance.

Keith said that with commission approval on June 8, MoDOT will immediately begin closing offices, dismissing workers and selling equipment, fully implementing the plan by the end of next year.

"We aren't proposing these changes lightly," Keith said. "We know they will be personal and painful for many people. It isn't what we want to do, but it's the right thing to do. It won't be easy, but it's a matter of survival."

Oregon County projects

MoDOT District Engineer Tom Stehn said in a telephone interview that several Oregon County maintenance projects already have been approved for funding, and will not be affected by the upcoming cost-saving measures.

Highway 63 resurfacing projects still are in the works from Houston to Route U in Cabool, and a stretch from Highway 19 in Thayer to the Arkansas state line. Highway 17 also will be resurfaced from West Plains to the Arkansas line.

Despite two weeks of heavy rains, the Route Y bridge replacement project over Frederick Creek also is on track to be open this week, Stehn said.

However, a Highway 142 shoulder-widening project from Thayer east to Route E that was drafted for State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) funds is still under consideration.

On May 5, MoDOT sent the Highway 142 widening proposal to the Federal Highway Commission for final approval. The federal decision is expected in July, Stehn said.

County commission concerns

With the Willow Springs closure, District 9 will become part of the Sikeston district.

Ledgerwood said he fears Oregon County's road and bridge maintenance needs will not be met.

"That puts us on the fringe of the district," Ledgerwood said. "I'm afraid that will hurt what little infrastructure we have."

Stehn said the state will continue to service the area.

"There will be fewer locations, but MoDOT is still providing the same quality service," Stehn said.

To contact MoDOT

The public may view the plan on MoDOTs website at http://www.modot.org/.

To contact MoDOT, write to: Missouri Department of Transportation Southwest District, 3901 East 32nd Street

Joplin, MO 64804; Email: askdistrict7@modot.mo.gov; Call: 417-621-6500 or 888-ASK-MODOT; or Fax: 417-629-3393.

MoDOT briefing schedule

Willow Springs -- 4-6 p.m. Friday, May 13, at Willow Springs School auditorium at 215 W. Fourth St.

West Plains -- 4-6 p.m. Monday, May 16, at the West Plains Civic Center Magnolia Room at 110 St. Louis Drive.

Doniphan -- 4-6 p.m. Tuesday, May 17, at the Doniphan Police Department at 124 Jefferson St.

Alton -- Thursday, May 26 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Alton Senior Center, 204 South Main Street.

Van Buren -- 4-6 p.m. Friday, May 27, at the Van Buren Community Center at 1204 Route D.

MoDOT representatives will be available to discuss the proposed Bolder Five-Year Direction and answer questions in an open-house format. As there will be no formal presentation, the public may attend at any time during the briefing.

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