The Missouri Department of Transportation will close its District 9 headquarters under a plan that will slash expenses statewide. The decision came Wednesday afternoon following a lengthy hearing in Jefferson City.
The unanimous decision came as a blow to supporters of keeping the Howell County facility open. A steering committee mobilized to save the facility and most recently held a meeting in West Plains that saw two commissioners and director Kevin Keith attend.
Commissioners denied a request from several at the meeting to extend the study period. The plan was released about 30 days ago.
Keith estimated the plan would save $512 million through 2015 by cutting 1,200 staff positions, closing 135 facilities and selling 744 pieces of equipment.
On the target list in Texas County are a maintenance facility at Success and a special regional bridge unit at Licking.
At Willow Springs, it is estimated as many as 80 jobs could be affected. The closing would occur Dec. 31, 2012. Officials say it can’t provide a definite number until configurations for districts are completed. Texas County would be served by a Bootheel district whose headquarters would be situated at Sikeston.
District offices at Macon and Joplin also will be closed.
Keith told those gathered at the meeting Wednesday that Willow Springs would house a regional office overseen by an area engineer. The move, he said, would improve service for the region.
“I want to commend the commission for taking thoughtful and decisive action on our plan to become a smaller agency,” said Keith. “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.”
About 70 to 80 employees will remain in each of the closed district areas under the direction of an area engineer who will lead a team of engineering, operations, maintenance and support staff, Keith said. The remaining complexes in the three locations will be called district regional offices.
Other changes to the plan 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. The department said it has already eliminated 403 jobs.
-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.
For the past several years, state transportation officials have been warning that Missouri was headed for a transportation funding crisis. 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.