A crowd of over 30 Barry County citizens gathered in Cassville on Monday to engage in "A Conversation for Moving Missouri Forward" that focused on state and local transportation needs.
The event was hosted by the Barry County Commission and included a presentation by Becky Balz, District 7 engineer with the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT).
Balz spoke about preparations MoDOT is making in anticipation of a federal economic stimulus package that could have a positive impact on state highway projects. According to Balz, MoDOT has pinpointed 34 transportation projects that could be awarded within six months of passage of a stimulus package that contains at least $25 billion for transportation investment nationwide.
The projects in Missouri total about $510 million, which MoDOT estimates would create about 14,000 jobs and have a $2.4 billion impact on the state's economy.
One of the 34 projects that is included in MoDOT's "ready to go" list involves Highway 60 from Monett to Republic. This $23 million proposal would construct alternating and intermittent passing lanes along the roadway similar to the improvements made along Highway 37 in 2007. This project was originally scheduled for completion in late 2010.
While Missouri highways would benefit directly from a federal stimulus package, Balz was quick to point out that funding would remain an issue for MoDOT beyond the one-time infusion of federal dollars.
"Funding continues to look a little ominous for us and that is why we want to visit with as many people as possible about what could be done if more money were made available for transportation," Balz said.
One of the projects that would possible with additional funding is the four-laning of Highway 37 from Monett to the Arkansas state line as well as four-laning of Highway 60 from Monett to Republic.
Both of these projects are listed on MoDOT's statewide major projects list and both have been the focus of local lobbying efforts spearheaded by the Highway 37/60 Corridor Coalition, which is chaired by Barry County Presiding Commissioner Cherry Warren.
Balz told the local contingent that some type of funding package for transportation would be needed at the state level to ensure that projects, like four-laning Highway 37, could be completed.
"We're going to struggle to keep our roads in good condition without additional funding," said Balz. "If you want additional improvements, it will take more money."
Warren concluded Monday's meeting by stating the 37/60 Corridor Coalition would not be "giving up" any time soon.
"We are on the radar screen, and we're glad for that," said Warren.
Warren said he was extremely pleased with the turnout at Monday's meeting.
Other public officials who attended the meeting included: Northern Commissioner Frank Washburn; Rep. David Sater; Southern Commissioner-Elect Wayne Hendrix; Cassville Mayor Tracy Holle; Seligman Mayor Duane Corn; Pea Ridge (Ark.) Mayor Jackie Crabtree; Cassville Economic Development Director Eugene Dilbeck; and the presidents of the Cassville and Seligman chambers of commerce.
Area residents who would like more information about MoDOT and its plans for Missouri's transportation system or who would like to offer their opinions and comments on any of the proposed projects can visit www.modot.org/conversation.