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City Beat: City backs I-44 widening plan

Council also envisions future of Lake Springfield

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Construction could begin in 2025 on widening Interstate 44 through Springfield if a state application for a 2022 Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant is successful.

The INFRA grant program is run by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The project is estimated to cost $109 million, with most funding from state and federal funds, according to Kirk Juranas, assistant director of Public Works.

At its meeting May 2, Springfield City Council voted unanimously to support the grant application by Missouri Department of Transportation’s Southwest District while pledging $2 million in matching funds. The city’s match would include $1.6 million in federal Surface Transportation Block Grant funds and $400,000 from the city’s 1/8-cent transportation sales tax. Also on May 2, the Greene County Commission pledged support and a $1 million match.

The interstate would be widened from U.S. Highway 65 west to Kansas Expressway/Missouri Highway 13. The grant would also rebuild the interchange at Kansas Expressway and I-44.

Juranas said a diverging diamond was built there in 2009 and had worked well, but recently backups of up to 20 minutes have been experienced by drivers.

Juranas said six bridges are included in the proposal – over Broadway, Grant and National avenues.

“We’re going to replace those bridges and also improve the ADA features underneath those so that we can connect the neighborhoods to the north and south,” he said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act makes infrastructure accessible to people who are disabled.

Juranas said plans also call for a box culvert to put a trail under I-44 at Doling Park, improving connectivity for pedestrians and bicyclists. The city’s contribution would fund the box culvert, according to an explanation of the council bill provided by Martin Gugel, assistant director of Public Works.

The stretch is about five miles of I-44, according to Juranas – the most traveled road in Springfield.

“The traffic there is the highest in our city,” he said. “It’s between 45,000 and 65,000 average cars a day; of that, about 30% of those are trucks.”

He said design work is underway, and acquisition of right of way for the I-44/Kansas Expressway interchange would begin immediately upon approval. Further study, including one for a proposed sound wall, would occur in 2024, and construction would start in 2025.

The application deadline is May 23, according to the DOT website. In 2021, successful grants were announced within three and a half months of the application deadline.

Future of Lake Springfield
Council is expected to accept $160,000 in funding at its May 16 meeting to help make up a $200,000 match for an $800,000 master planning grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration.

The funding includes a $100,000 grant from the Hatch Foundation and $60,000 from City Utilities of Springfield. Another $40,000 is already budgeted through the city’s Environmental Services Department.

According to Senior City Planner Olivia Hough, the scope of the grant includes a hydrological study of the lake, which was created by damming the James River to create a cooling water supply for the now-decommissioned power plant at the site. At least 1,000 acres surrounding the former plant and the lake are publicly owned.

Hough said the area would be studied for its enhanced recreation and multimodal transportation possibilities, with a focus on connecting greenway trails. The Chadwick Flyer trail, for example, would connect downtown Springfield with the Ozark community center.

If council approves the study, the first step would be competitive selection of consultants. The study would be completed by June 2023, Hough said.

Councilperson Andrew Lear credited the plan for meshing the built and natural environments.

“There’s something magical about water,” he said. “Water attracts people. While this is a resource we all need to survive, it just seems to draw people, whether it be tourism, economic development – I’m just really excited about this.”

He added his enthusiasm about all of the placemaking activity happening in the city.

“All these things that we have going, I just hope that we get them done while I’m still young enough to enjoy them all,” Lear said.

Surplus property sold
Council approved 15 property sales for parcels acquired through the city’s dangerous building program. The Department of Building Development Services paid to demolish the houses on the properties and then declared them surplus property and put them up for public bid.

The separate ordinances were included under council’s consent agenda, which was approved by a 9-0 vote, but prior to the voting, Councilperson Richard Ollis raised some concerns.

“My main concern here is that we just tore down, right, a home on these properties,” he said. “So, we’re getting rid of a derelict property, and I’m just wondering how we can do our best to make sure we don’t just perpetuate another problem from happening.”

Deputy City Manager Collin Quigley said properties are sold to the highest bidder, and if a sale fails after two attempts, the price is reduced. Properties can then be sold at a discounted rate or donated to affordable housing organizations.

Quigley said the intent of acquiring property through the dangerous building program is to clean up the site.

“We’re not trying to be the property owner,” he said. “We ultimately do end up owning some properties; the goal is to get the property back in productive use.”

Auction prices for the vacant city lots range from $1,000 to $25,000.

Other action items

  • The 2018 version of the International Energy Conservation Code, not including the residential portion, was adopted for inclusion in the city’s land development code, with some modifications, including making automatic lighting controls and building system commissioning nonmandatory. The 2018 version is an update from the 2012 version, which was adopted three years ago.

The residential building code will be presented to council in May or June, according to BDS Interim Director Brock Rowe, who said he expects modification to the residential portion as well.

  • Council authorized a grant application from the Department of Workforce Development for an additional $60,000 in transportation assistance through the Community Foundation of the Ozarks’ Let’s Get to Work fund.

Sally Payne, director of Workforce Development, told council transportation and child care were the two main barriers to work.

“We’re really thankful for this opportunity and funding. It’s been really helpful for the community,” she said.

Councilperson Craig Hosmer raised an issue that has been discussed previously by council, and that is making bus transportation free in the city. He said council should push to get that done.

“We need employees all over the city,” he said. “It seems like we’re hurting ourselves by not having a transportation system to get people from point A to point B.”

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