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Becky Baltz leads MoDOT's Southwest District, which is reducing its work force by 105. Baltz took the Springfield job following last year's closure of the Joplin district office.
Becky Baltz leads MoDOT's Southwest District, which is reducing its work force by 105. Baltz took the Springfield job following last year's closure of the Joplin district office.

Area MoDOT cuts at halfway point

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The Missouri Department of Transportation Southwest District office is more than halfway through reducing its work force by 105 in accordance with MoDOT’s five-year plan to downsize personnel, equipment and facilities statewide.

In June, the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission, the administrative body that oversees MoDOT’s $2 billion annual budget, unveiled its Bolder Five-Year Plan to address an operations budget effectively cut in half due to a lack of federal and state funding. The plan calls for more than $500 million in system cuts by 2015, including nearly 1,200 jobs, or 19 percent of its staff, by mid-2013.

Charged with maintaining Missouri’s roadways, a combination of Amendment 3 bonds and federal stimulus dollars allowed MoDOT to tackle projects at an average rate of $1.25 billion per year between 2005 and 2010. Starting in 2010, MoDOT reduced its project plans to roughly $600 million per year through 2015.

During the last six months, Springfield’s Southwest District office has eliminated 59 of its 851 positions through retirement and a reapplication process, said Becky Baltz, the Southwest District engineer who heads up the office.

Baltz came into the position when the Joplin district office, where she worked for six years, was a casualty of cuts. The Joplin district was one of three to be eliminated in 2011, after formal approval of the plan left only seven district offices in place.

Through 2015, MoDOT is cutting roughly one-fifth of its staff, closing more than 100 maintenance and traffic facilities, and unloading some 700 vehicles.

“We’ve had a lot of employees take positions outside of MoDOT. We’ve had a lot of employees retire. We’ve vacated several of our buildings already, so it is definitely a process that is well under way,” Baltz said.

In the southwest district, no more cuts will be made to its maintenance positions, which include supervisory personnel and “boots on the ground” workers, Baltz said. Maintenance staff has been reduced by 12 percent.

While the total number of cuts is ahead of schedule, Baltz said the administration staff still needs to be reduced by 30 percent, and program delivery staff positions need to be cut by 27 percent.

“It’s a little difficult because people are competing for the same positions, but at the same time, I think everyone has tried to be as supportive as possible through this process,” Baltz said.

Joe Carmichael, partner in Springfield law firm Carmichael & Neal PC, has served as a Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission member since April 2009 when MoDOT was still completing more than $1B in projects annually.

He said the unanimously approved reapplication process was the right way to implement the cuts.

The MHTC is an independent body that essentially acts like a board of directors for MoDOT, Carmichael said, setting the organization’s policies and hiring its senior management. Following the departure of former MoDOT Director Pete Rahn in April 2010, the commission sought candidates who could effectively manage the funding reductions coming down the pike.

“It was something that became part of the process of hiring the chief executive of the agency,” Carmichael said, adding that new Director Kevin Keith’s team developed the Bolder plan after Keith officially took the position in November 2010. “The commission felt like we needed to create a more efficient and effective organization. It wasn’t just about reducing costs. It was about reorganizing the agency and getting the right people in the right spots.

“It’s painful, and it creates a lot of anxiety among our personnel, but I think we’ll have a much stronger agency at the conclusion.”

State Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-District 18, in northeast Missouri, said he’s heard grumblings from MoDOT maintenance workers about system inefficiencies during the last three years. He said he’s talked to MoDOT administrators about his concerns that facility closures in his district could lead to more money being spent on fuel.

“My only wish is that MoDOT would listen to their employees more,” Munzlinger said, noting that the organization reported to him that its diesel fuel costs went up 34 percent between 2000 and 2010.

Munzlinger said he’d spoken with a number of employees who picked retirement over reapplying for their positions, but he’s heard that recent administrative changes in his area enacted as part of the Bolder Plan have helped to improve operations there.

Baltz said changes at MoDOT won’t be obvious to normal users of Missouri’s roadways for a few years. In 2012, for example, construction on a new diverging diamond interchange at Chestnut Expressway and U.S. Highway 65 will begin, but projects on the scale of the $57 million stimulus-funded Highway 65 and U.S. Highway 60 interchange will fall off the map unless something changes.

“We do still have a few big projects that are under way and a couple more that are coming up (in 2012). But then over time, you’ll see fewer and fewer big projects. We’ll focus on resurfacing, bridge replacements and safety-oriented projects,” Baltz said.

The 60-65 interchange is scheduled to be complete in October. Other Southwest District projects include improvements to U.S. Highway 71 between Joplin and Kansas City, Route 13 widening between Branson West and Kimberling City, widening of Campbell Avenue to six lanes in south Springfield, and bridge improvements in eight counties.[[In-content Ad]]

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