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MoDOT hears from Oregon County residents about district office closing

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Oregon County residents who attended a Missouri Department of Transportation open house Thursday, May 26, said they think the department's plan to close its Willow Springs office is unsound.

"We're only 9,000 people down here, but we have just as many rights to service," resident Tom Simpson said.

Simpson was one of several county residents who spoke at the two-hour meeting at the Alton Senior Center.

Others in attendance included four MoDOT representatives, Oregon County Presiding Commissioner Patrick Ledgerwood, Northern County Commissioner Edward Casey and David Stubblefield, assistant to District 153 Rep. Stephen Cookson.

Calling MoDOT's Bolder Five Year Direction plan "detrimental" to Oregon County, Ledgerwood presented a letter from the Oregon County Commission, asking for a 90-day extension to the public comment period.

The first week of May, MoDOT made public its proposal to close three district offices, including its District 9 office in Willow Springs, close numerous maintenance sheds, including the one in Thayer, eliminate 850 jobs statewide and sell 740 pieces of equipment by December 2012.

The comment period closes June 3.

MoDOT workers' jobs

Jeff Johnson, MoDOT's assistant District 9 engineer, said MoDOT employees were only told of the pending job cuts and office closings three days before the public was informed.

Johnson and District 9 maintenance superintendent Jim Clark, also at the meeting, both work in the Willow Springs office and had not yet been notified if they will retain their jobs. Of 140 Willow Springs employees, about 80 will remain.

"Can I ask why this was brought up and rushed through so fast?" Simpson asked.

"It's painful no matter what," Johnson said, "but, a sharp knife cuts quicker."

Johnson said employees will know in July whether their positions have been cut or moved to another location. Most employees are already tired of the wait, he said.

"It's been a long month already," Johnson said. "From an employee perspective, it's very stressful. It's turmoil everywhere."

Road maintenance

Clark said maintenance workers should remain about the same, with most cuts being to upper management or lost through attrition.

"There will be the same number of people in Oregon County; they'll just come to Alton," Clark said of the Thayer shed closing. Years earlier, the maintenance shed closed in Garfield. "From a maintenance standpoint, this won't be a big issue."

"What about from a construction standpoint?" Ledgerwood asked.

Ledgerwood said he attended the first MoDOT meeting in Jefferson City when the plan was announced. Also at that meeting, he learned that MoDOT recently completed a bridge to connect a bicycle path to the Katy Trail.

"It was a hard pill to swallow," Ledgerwood said. "My grandmother-in-law won't even come to visit because our roads are too dangerous."

Ledgerwood said that with the proposed new district office being in Sikeston, Oregon County will be on the fringe of the district, and less likely to get serviced. Using the county as an example, Ledgerwood said its easy to forget a gravel road in New Liberty, compared to gravel roads right around Alton.

"That is a concern -- and you're right. Sikeston will never learn this area as well as you," Johnson said. "We're not even denying that. But, like I said, we're out of money. We're putting twice as much money in fuel as a year ago."

MoDOT estimates it will save more than $200 million over the next five years with the plan in place.

Simpson said MoDOT could also save money by seeking input from residents. Instead of hauling in dirt for a project, ask a farmer if he needs a pond dug, he said.

"Some of these farmers could've had ideas about how to fix a road," Simpson said.

Johnson said many residents across the region have submitted suggested to MoDOT, which are being reviewed by MoDOT and the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.

"This is just government responding to the economy," Johnson said. "The future is going to be bright."

To comment

Call 888-275-6636, email MHTC@modot.

mo.gov or visit www.modot.org/bolderfiveyeardirection/co....

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