MoDOT Closing Macon Office, Cutting 1,200 Positions

7 years 1 month 2 weeks ago Wednesday, May 04 2011 May 4, 2011 Wednesday, May 04, 2011 10:34:00 AM CDT May 04, 2011 in News
By: Theo Keith

JEFFERSON CITY — State Transportation Department leaders, facing a more serious funding crisis than originally thought, said Wednesday they will respond by slashing more positions, closing district offices and selling hundreds of pieces of equipment.

The department will eliminate 1,200 positions through attrition and transfers, but layoffs are a last step, MoDOT said in a news release. If the plan gets approval from the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, MoDOT will shutter offices in Macon, Joplin and Willow Springs, and will cut its equipment inventory by 740 pieces. The cuts are expected to save $512 million over five years that will go to maintaining the state's roads and bridges.

The new plan comes as MoDOT leaders say the department's construction budget will shrink to $600 million from $1.2 billion over five years. The cuts are necessary in the face of a "transportation funding crisis," Director Kevin Keith said.

""We don't like having to do this, and we aren't proposing these changes lightly, because we know they will be personal and painful for many people, but heading in this direction is the right thing to do. It's what we have to do to survive," Keith said. "Without these actions, Missouri would lose millions of dollars in federal funds for transportation."

Last year, MoDOT announced a less severe cost-reduction plan, that included eliminating 400 positions and focusing its efforts on simply maintaining the state's current infrastructure. State bond money is running out, gas tax revenue is faltering as Missourians drive more fuel-efficient cars, and federal funding is at risk. Upon reassessing the budget, last year's cuts weren't enough, Keith said.

The cost-savings plan is a natural response to the funding crisis, said Bill McKenna, a spokesman for the Missouri Transportation Alliance, an organization that advocates for increased funding for infrastructure projects.

"Our state's transportation infrastructure will quickly fall short of Missourians' expectations," McKenna said. "The cuts highlight the urgent need to resolve Missouri's transportation funding shortfall."

Pete Rahn, MoDOT's former director, advocated for toll roads and a state sales tax dedicated to transportation before he left his job last April. Rahn, who took a job with Kansas City-based engineering firm HNTB, oversaw a large increasing in spending on roads and bridges — including MoDOT's ongoing "Safe and Sound" program to repair 800 bridges across the state.

Keith replaced Rahn, first as interim director before taking the position permenantly last fall. At that time, he did not name a specific funding source he wanted to see tapped to increase MoDOT's budget.

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