Despite much public opposition, the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission last week adopted a plan to downsize Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) to save money.
The state's plan, part of which calls for closing the Willow Springs District 9 office, was made public in early May.
During a series of open house meetings hosted by MoDOT throughout the district, many citizens and public officials, including Oregon County commissioners, voiced opposition to the plan.
Oregon County Presiding Commissioner Patrick Ledgerwood spoke at several meetings and sent the state commission a letter restating concerns about the county being forgotten once the district office moves to faraway Sikeston.
Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst issued the following statement after the commission approved the move: "We are disappointed the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission acted so quickly on a proposal of such magnitude which closes several MoDOT facilities and reduces staff. Thirty days is simply not enough time for the commission to consider the impact of the proposed changes, especially in light of the fact that our elected officials, community leaders and other interested citizens had no opportunity for input until the plan was announced."
Hurst said Missouri Farm Bureau is concerned the plan will have a negative effect on the delivery of MoDOT services to rural Missouri.
The approved plan
In a resolution June 8, the six commission members approved reducing MoDOT's staff size by 1,200, closing 131 facilities and selling more than 740 pieces of equipment. By 2015, the plan - called the Bolder Five-Year Direction - is estimated save $512 million that will be used for vital road and bridge projects.
"I want to commend the commission for taking thoughtful and decisive action on our plan to become a smaller agency," said MoDOT Director Kevin Keith in a press release. "The process hasn't been easy, and their decision was a difficult one. But it's a step that must be taken. We owe it to Missourians to make the best use of the resources we're given, and this plan puts us on the right path to do just that."
The final plan calls for MoDOT to retain a significant presence in the three areas where the department will close district offices: Macon, Joplin and Willow Springs.
About 70 to 80 employees will remain in each of those areas under the direction of an area engineer who will lead a team of engineering, operations, maintenance and support staff. The remaining complexes in the three locations will be called district regional offices.
Other plan changes include:
* Extending the date to make staffing changes by three months from Dec. 31, 2012 to March 31, 2013 to allow more time for attrition and transfers to achieve employee reductions.
* Adjusting the boundaries of the new seven districts to better balance MoDOT's workload and coordinate with regional planning commission boundaries. There are 23 regional planning commissions in Missouri that coordinate local issues related to regional planning and development.
* Keeping open maintenance facilities in New Cambria, Nashua, Seymour, Ellsinore and Puxico and closing a maintenance facility in Fordland.
* Moving the St. Clair area engineer office to Festus and merging the Camdenton area engineer office with the maintenance and traffic facility in Osage Beach.
"We held 115 community briefings on the Bolder Five-Year Direction throughout the state in the last month and thousands of Missourians voiced their opinions on our plan of action," Commission Chair Grace Nichols said in a prepared statement. "We considered each and every comment and recommendation and incorporated the changes we believed improved the plan. But we felt strongly that the move to make MoDOT smaller was the right direction to head."
The plan will begin in parts immediately with full implementation by March 2013.
For the past several years, state transportation officials have been warning that Missouri was headed for a transportation funding crisis, according to Keith.
Faced with a construction program that has been cut in half and the inability to match federal funds in the future, the commission asked Keith to develop a plan to become the right size to serve customers.
More information, including the complete plan, maps of the new MoDOT districts and a list of facility closures, can be found at www.modot.org.