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MoDOT to eliminate 1,200 jobs, close 135 facilities

(Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)
Snow plows stand at the ready for the Missouri Department of Transportation. MoDOT announced a new plan today that includes reductions in employees, facilities and equipment.

Calling it a "matter of survival" for his agency, Missouri Department of Transportation director Kevin Keith unveiled a five-year restructuring plan this morning that will eliminate 1,200 jobs, close 135 facilities, and sell more than 740 pieces of equipment.

The plan is designed to help MoDOT deal with a sharp drop in funding for road construction.  The department has been able to spend more than $1 billion a year for the last five years on roads and bridges. That number will be halved in the next five years.

"The Amendment 3 money has been spent. The ARRA money has been spent. And now what's in front of us is a problem," Keith said. "It could be described as a pending crisis."

The savings - about $512 million over five years - will be used to leverage federal dollars. In addition, Keith says, the restructuring will allow any new resources to be directed right to construction.

Here's how the restructuring breaks down:

  • 1,200 jobs will be reduced through a combination of layoffs, attrition and retirements. Exact breakdowns of those numbers were not available. Layoffs were called a last resort, but Keith expects at least some.
  • With fewer new projects, focus will be shifted from design and right-of-way acquisition to maintenance - "boots on the ground," Keith called it. Most of the reductions will come from middle management and supervisory positions.
  • 135 facilities will be closed, including the district offices in Macon, Joplin and Willow Springs. The 10 current MoDOT districts will be reduced to seven.
  • Fourteen of the facilities are in the St. Louis area - six regional engineering offices and eight maintenance and traffic offices.
  • The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission is scheduled to vote on the plan June 8, with full implementation by December 2012.

"The pain will be felt throughout Missouri. It's unfortunate, but I think the public demands a bold plan, and I think the economic times require it," transportation commissioner Lloyd Carmichael said.

Residents of the cities losing district offices pleaded with commissioners to target the cuts elsewhere.

"I think the devastation could be spread out a little bit and not centered fully on three very small communities," Denise Bennett, the director of economic development for Macon County said. "It is the state's and the nation's push for economic recovery, and that mean job creation, but  in rural communities, it's about business retention and keeping the jobs that we have, in particular these jobs that are state jobs that have good benefits and good pay."

Keith said the department will take the comments into consideration - but said saving one district office would likely lead to the closure of another.

"This is hard," Keith said. "There is no other way for me to describe it.  But we're in a situation where we have to do something."

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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