Commission sets county transportation priorities for fiscal year in annual meeting with MoDOT, MRPC
by Gunnar Krull
County Commissioners met with representatives from the Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) and the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) where they set the county’s transportation priority needs in their annual transportation meeting.
Commissioners met with MRPC’s Executive Director Bonnie Prigge and MoDOT’s Central Region Director Preston Kramer to discuss the needs of the county’s transportation infrastructure like roads, bridges, and multimodal needs like sidewalks and bicycle paths. Representatives from the City of Hermann were also in attendance to contribute to the discussion from the City’s perspective.
Prigge presented a list of transportation needs in Gasconade County that the commissioners then selected top priorities from to be considered for addition to the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The STIP is MoDOT’s scheduled construction projects over the next five fiscal years that Kramer characterized as saying, “if they’re in the STIP, it’s an obligation to the public.”
The Commission listed three needs as being their top priorities: first, safety improvements at the intersection of Route J and Highway 100, about six miles west of Hermann; second, the addition of sidewalks and pedestrian crossings in Hermann along Route H and Highways 100 and 19 to connect the schools, new library, and downtown areas, and; third, the addition of turn lanes on Highway 19 from the junction with Highway 28 to the north city limits in Owensville to address safety concerns entering and exiting the highway from the school.
Improving the intersection of Route J and Highway 100 is something Kramer would like to address by completely redoing, but said there are simpler and less costly options to increase safety.
“It would be ideal to reconfigure that whole intersection, but I think there might be a lower cost solution,” Kramer said. “If we were to buy some of the right of way on the north side we could cut that back and significantly increase sight distance without changing the way that intersection functions.”
The addition of sidewalks in the area of Route H and Highways 19 and 100 was something Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel and Hermann City Administrator Patricia Heaney spoke about being important to connecting the city’s pedestrian routes, particularly with the new library location and hospital clinic in the Bavarian Hills Shopping Center. Heaney also pointed to the potential of a new housing development in that area that would create “an even greater need” for additional sidewalks.
The last of the three top priorities – adding turn lanes for the school entrance in Owensville – was the top priority for the county in the previous fiscal year, but because the Gasconade County R-II School District has stated this was not a high priority concern of theirs, the Commission chose to move it down the list but still keep it as one of the top priorities.
“I don’t have a problem with that,” Southern District Commissioner Jerry Lairmore said of moving the turning lanes in Owensville down on the list. “If the school changes their mind it’s just a matter of an application, whether it’s at the top of the list or not. If they want to do it, it’s going to get approved.”
Another of the top priorities from fiscal year 2022 that fell down the list this fiscal year is building a bridge over the Gasconade River on Route J to connect Gasconade and Osage Counties where the ferry service had previously operated.
The Gasconade River bridge project was still considered a priority by commissioners, but because of Osage County not considering it a top priority, and a likely need for both counties to agree on it being a top priority, the bridge was left out of this year’s list in favor of more feasible projects.
Other projects the County Commission considered of interest in pursuing were improving the intersection of Highway 28 and Route B in Bland and replacing the one-lane, load-posted bridge over Branch of Cedar Creek on Route Y that was built in 1936.
Executive Director Prigge said MRPC would take Gasconade County’s top priorities along with those of the other seven counties in the MRPC and create a ranked list at their Transportation Advisory Committee meeting in December before meeting with MoDOT.
“We will have a ranked list from all eight counties and sit down and discuss with MoDOT for consideration for projects moving into the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan,” Prigge said. “That draft is usually put together in February or March, then put out for public comment in June, and the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission usually acts on it in July.”
Two of the transportation projects previously on Gasconade County’s list were removed because of their addition to STIP.
One of the projects added to the STIP is the bridge on Market Street in Hermann over Frene Creek. Built in 1930, the Frene Creek bridge is considered in “fair condition” by MoDOT, but its narrow construction, the problems with flooding, and limited pedestrian access warranted its formal addition to the STIP.
The Frene Creek bridge was added to the STIP for fiscal year 2024, but whether MoDOT chooses to demolish the existing bridge and build a new one or rehabilitate the current bridge is something they have not yet decided, according to Kramer.
“I like rehabs because if we can capture a bridge at the right stage in its life and replace the deck, we get essentially a brand new bridge at a fraction of the price, and that’s good for the taxpayers in Missouri,” Kramer said. “But I can’t tell you right now if that’s a replacement or rehab candidate.”
According to Kramer, rehabilitation projects are more labor intensive and with the recent increases in the cost of labor, it might not be more cost efficient to rehabilitate the Frene Creek bridge rather than demolishing it and building a new one. Even with the uncertainty, Kramer still feels rehabilitation will be a viable option.
“It’s probably still a rehab project, but with the industry being what it is right now, we’re taking a look at both scenarios,” he said. “Hopefully in a year or two from now we can remove that from the list.”
Cutline: The bridge over Second Creek on Ruskaup Road near Mr. Sterling was one of three bridges in the county that qualified for replacement through the Off-System Bridge Program (BRO). BRO offers federal funds to help replace deficient bridges owned by cities, towns, and counties located on non-federal roadways. Built by MoDOT in 1925, the bridge on Ruskaup Road is currently owned by the County and rated in “poor” condition by MoDOT, making it eligible for federal assistance.
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