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Proposed Highway 142 widening scaled back

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A proposed Highway 142 widening project, to add shoulders from the Thayer High School to Couch Schools, was slashed before being sent to the state Highway Commission for approval.

Former Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) District 9 Engineer Tom Stehn, who now serves as assistant district engineer for the Southeast District, made the announcement at the South Central Ozark Transportation Advisory Committee quarterly meeting June 21 in Willow Springs.

Stehn passed out a list of highway improvement projects pending highway commission approval in July. The list includes two Oregon County projects -- a left turn lane in front of Thayer High School and adding 2-foot shoulders from the high school on Highway 142 to Route EE and resurfacing of Route W from Highway 19 to the end of the route at Grand Guld State Park.

Stehn said the proposed Highway 142 project has been scaled back from 12 miles to eight, but moved up on the list to a 2012 project if approved.

In a followup interview Monday, June 27, Oregon County Presiding Commissioner Patrick Ledgerwood called the project reduction "disappointing."

Oregon County Southern Commissioner John Wrenfrow, who attended the advisory committee meeting, said that, if the state approves the Highway 142 project, he will ask again that the state widen the road all the way to Couch Schools.

"It really should be widened all the way to Doniphan," Ledgerwood said.

Highway signs

Those in attendance also heard from MoDOT transportation planner Steve Reed that Missouri counties must change their old road signs to new reflective signs at each counties' cost.

Reed said each county must have a sign program in place by January 2012, although all signs do not have to meet new retro-reflectivity standards until 2015.

Reed suggested counties start with major signs, such as stop signs, then proceed with street signs and emergency signs. The issue is nationwide, he said.

"It would cost us a fortune to replace every sign," an Ozark County commissioner said at the start of the two-hour meeting. "We can't do it."

Reed said, so far, there is no actual enforcement of the law, although MoDOT is encouraging all entities to install the reflective signs to prevent lawsuits in case of accidents. Now, motorists could claim they did not see a sign, he said.

Reed suggested developing a plan, including a budget and replacement schedule.

Wrenfrow said Oregon County replaced all of its signs two years ago, although vandals repeatedly steal or destroy the signs, particularly "Road Closed" signs.

"We really need to maintain a law for all these hoodlums who are tearing down our signs," Wrenfrow said.

MoDOT changes explained

In other business, MoDOT Southeast District Engineer Mark Shelton of the district office in Sikeston, explained changes anticipated with the upcoming Willow Springs District 9 office closing.

Before speaking, Shelton played a video focusing on a MoDOT district engineer from the St. Louis area who gets out into her area of responsibility and knows the roads. The video included clips of area public officials praising the role of the district engineer.

Later in the meeting, Wright County Commissioner John Citron asked Shelton his thoughts about the new roads Shelton must learn now that the Southeast District has consumed District 9.

"There are only so many hours in a day, and so many hours," Citron said.

Shelton said MoDOT's function will not change, and that the closing of three district office is a matter of survival. The number of "boots on the ground in maintenance services" will not change, he said.

Only the roles of supervisors will change he said. Statewide, MoDOT will cut about 1,200 jobs to reduce its staff to 5,100 employees.

"We took a look into the future, and there are not enough dollars," Shelton said. "Times are tough."

In response to a committee member's question, Shelton said MoDOT is in a maintenance only mode, although there are some projects he would like to see move forward.

"There is nothing I'd like to do better on my watch than to get Highway 63 a four-lane," Shelton said. "But, you know the funding gig."

Shelton said funding is reduced because Congress has been moving money from the general fund to bolster the transportation fund. That can't continue, he said.

The transportation fund is only funded by the gas tax, he said.

Committee Chairman Royce Fugate, also the current West Plains city administrator, said cities also can pass a transportation tax to fund specific projects. West Plains recently extended its transportation tax for the third time, receiving support from 80 percent of voters.

Shelton said the cities of Cape Girardeau and Springfield also consistently garner taxpayer support in approving transportation taxes because they keep their promises to taxpayers, doing the projects they said they would.

Sidewalk inventory

Denis Beganovic, of MoDOT, said the state is in the process of sending out sidewalk inventory surveys to all cities with populations of 1,000 or more. Once the inventory is complete, the state has set a goal of working on eight cities a year.

"We hear more and more that people want places to walk," Fugate said. "And, you can't use a transportation tax on sidewalks."

Stehn said there has been a lot of discussion at the federal level about putting some funds into the highway bill for sidewalks -- to create more "walkable" communities.

The highway commission will make its decision July 13.

Next meeting

The Transportation Advisory Committee will meet again Sept. 20. Among other things, the committee will discuss a new top-10 regional road repair priority list, as it has been three years since the list was updated.

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