(Photo by Scott Welton, Staff)
Transportation industry consultants and officials from area cities and counties met at the Missouri Department of Transportation's district office Tuesday with MoDOT officials. "We're all here to improve transportation in southeast Missouri," said Scott Meyer, district engineer for MoDOT.
Bill Robison, MoDOT's transportation project manager, said the reason for the meeting was to communicate information regarding transportation in southeast Missouri as well as to develop a relationship with area consultants and officials, to "put names with faces."
"We're going to be a lot more proactive in our planning efforts," Meyer said.
Meyer said the department has been understaffed and overwhelmed in the past, receiving about half the money they need to address all the transportation needs.
Therefore planning is important, he said, "to build the right project." He also noted the importance of input from local governments. "It's not going to be OK to not be involved," Meyer said.
While a draft Statewide Transportation Improvement Program has been prepared, MoDOT is waiting on feedback "before we program further," he said.
Each year, the STIP is updated by MoDOT and approved by the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.
Once a project is listed in an approved STIP, "that's a job we're going to do," said Barry Horst, project development engineer for MoDOT. "It may move back a few months, it may move up a few months...but it's going to get done."
He reminded officials and consultants that MoDOT will be receiving input until Aug. 27. "Now is the time to give us comment," Horst said.
Funding is divided into specific categories, Horst noted, with $1.25 million earmarked to address safety issues, for example.
While MoDOT has in years past worked on running four-lane highways across the state, it is now "looking at getting out of that business," according to Horst. Replacing bridges and resurfacing roads will be MoDOT's focus "for the foreseeable future."
Horst said $25 million for major interstate bridge projects is not really enough but it is "a step in the right direction."
With the focus on "taking care of the system," many resurfacing projects will take place, Horst said. "We're going to try to stretch the dollars as far as they can go."
Horst also listed area STIP projects which will be contracted in the district such as putting in a traffic light at the intersection of Highway 61 with HH/ZZ and resurfacing Interstate 55 from Marston to Portageville.
Danica Stovall-Taylor, transportation planner coordinator at MoDOT's central office in Jefferson City, next outlined some funding categories for officials.
Both the Off-systems Bridge Replacement/Rehabilitation Program and the Transportation Enhancement Program are federally mandated, Stovall-Taylor said.
The first distributes money for locally-maintained bridges to counties based on a comparison of a county's total square feet of deficient bridge with the state total. The second federally-mandated program is for projects that are not routine maintenance or construction such as rest stops, visitor centers and landscaping.
Stovall-Taylor also discussed the On-systems Bridge Replacement-Rehab and the STP-Small Urban programs which are no longer federally mandated but still important.
She reminded officials that on any project with federal aid, "to get MoDOT's approval before starting any work."
Between $20 million and $30 million in funding through a cost share program which matches funds dollar for dollar from local governments is available as well as up to 100 percent funding for economic development projects Stovall-Taylor said, although local matching funds are encouraged.
Dave Luther, MoDOT construction inspector, said there are "innovative ways within the rules" to work with MoDOT for funding assistance.
Luther also reminded officials of testing requirements. "Keep your records on your testing," he said.
Officials should always advise Luther of critical components of a job, he said. "Just leave me a voice mail."
Luther also discussed change orders for projects: "If there's a change, let me know and I can give a verbal (OK)." He also advised keeping records for any in-kind work done on a project and of wages for auditors.
Jay Lancaster presented officials with additional information on the Off-systems Bridge program. "It's a program that's been around for some time but very few use it," he said. "It's kind of a side program people don't know about."
Mike Helpingstine advised that non-state bridge inspections required every other year are conducted by him.
While people are often not happy about a bridge being closed, "they understand it's a safety issue," Helpingstine said. If not, they are "better off mad than dead."
Helpingstine also discussed the Bridge Engineering Assistance Program which will help hire an engineer for a second opinion on a bridge or to engineer repairs.
Officials were also advised by Lynelle Luther, operations engineer for Performance Based SPECS, that MoDOT has been revising its specs over the past couple of years.
"We're the first state in the U.S. to completely revise their specs to be performance-based," she said. Accordingly, the new specs include "a lot of changes."
A meeting with construction consultants and contractors is being planned to "go over some of the general changes," she added.