Calling for reductions in staff, buildings and equipment, a five-year cost-cutting plan for the Missouri Department of Transportation was approved Wednesday.
The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission voted unanimously to approve the plan, called MoDOT's Bolder Five-Year Direction, after hours of hearing from both supporters and opponents in Jefferson City.
Across the state, the plan will result in the reduction of 1,200 employees, 131 facilities and 740 pieces of equipment in an effort to save more than $500 million by 2015. Then the department expects an additional savings of $100 million annually that will be redirected to road projects. The plan will be fully implemented by March 2013.
In Southeast Missouri, the plan calls for the closure of resident engineer offices in Kennett and Sikeston, and maintenance facilities in Delta, Brazeau, Naylor, Portageville and Williamsville.
Since February 2010, MoDOT has closed an engineer office in Kennett and maintenance sites in Steele, East Prairie and Arbyrd, said Mark Shelton, district engineer for MoDOT's Southeast District. Staff at those locations were transferred to other facilities, he said.
The plan originally called for closing a maintenance facility in Puxico, but after an outpouring of input at a public meeting in Dexter, that was removed from the plan. Tourist traffic in the Wappapello Lake area justified keeping that facility open, Shelton said.
About 500 people are currently employed by MoDOT's Southeast District.
"We are going to provide good customer service and part of the plan is no reduction to boots-on-the-ground maintenance folks," Shelton said. Maintenance workers who are now at a facility slated to be closed will be relocated, he said. There will be reductions in supervisor and middle-management positions.
Layoffs a last resort
Staffing reductions will occur by attrition with layoffs as a last resort, Shelton said.
Shelton couldn't say exactly how many workers in this part of the state would be cut. The number of employees in the district will actually increase because the new plan redraws district boundaries to add more central-Missouri counties to the Southeast District.
MoDOT is also reducing its regional districts from 10 to seven. The Southeast District currently covers 14 counties but will expand westward to encompass 25 total counties under the new plan. The new district will have 15,950 lane miles within it.
The plan will save MoDOT $512 million by 2015 and $117 million annually to be used on road and bridge projects.
For the past five years, MoDOT's construction program has averaged $1.2 billion per year. New construction projects will be cut to about half that amount under the new plan.
MoDOT's funds come from a 17-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax, an automobile sales tax and a portion of driver's license and vehicle registration fees.
Transportation funding is unpredictable as fuel tax revenue continues to decline as a result of automakers producing more efficient vehicles.
"Here's what we need to do to survive going into the future. This is the right direction," Shelton said. "Past five years, we just don't know what's going to happen on a national scene or a state scene."
The last federal highway bill was approved by Congress in 2005 and expired in 2010. Since that time, state transportation departments are operating under continuing resolutions.
Cape Girardeau County 1st District Commissioner Paul Koeper said he understands MoDOT's dilemma, but he's concerned about the impact these cuts will have on local rural highways.
"What they've proposed is doing the bare minimum on any of the lettered roads in the state to try to take care of the primary roads,"
While there has been talk in the past of shifting the responsibility for maintaining rural state roads over to counties, Koeper said he doesn't believe counties would have the resources to do that.
Adopting a new state transportation sales tax, increasing fuel tax or implementing toll roads to generate more funding for MoDOT would be difficult in this economy, Koeper said.
"It needs to be looked at, but I don't know what the answer is," he said.