The cities of St. Clair and Washington, which are at extreme ends of the 13-mile Highway 47 corridor in Franklin County, will take a backseat on the proposed widening project, at least for the first few years.
Instead, the city of Union, Franklin County and the Union Special Road District will spearhead the project, and all three parties agree the intersection of Highways 47 and 50 must get first attention.
On Tuesday, a meeting was held with stakeholders from Union, St. Clair, Washington and Franklin County and it was decided to move forward to produce a memorandum of understanding on the scope and costs of the project. The document also will include how much money the three entities will pledge to the project.
“How and what is the best way to divvy this thing up?” Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker asked. “As of now, nothing is set in stone. Should it be equal shares, since everyone will benefit?”
St. Clair City Administrator Travis Dierker said interest in the Union project in his community and with his aldermen is mixed and said it could be years before the overall $70 million widening project even reaches St. Clair.
“We are sure there is a need, but at this point we don’t want to jump too far ahead,” Dierker said.
Washington City Administrator Darren Lamb echoed his southern counterpart’s sentiments that since Washington also is at an extreme end of the corridor, he would rather sit back and let Union get its project done first before committing funds.
“It could be 10 years before the project even gets close to Washington,” Lamb said. “A more pressing priority for us now is keeping Highway 47 above flood level on the north side of the new bridge in Warren County.”
In recent weeks, discussions to get the project started have centered around a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study that would be required to assess any potential hazards to exiting wildlife of the environment.
At issue was the $800,000 to $1.2 million cost of the study and who would foot the bill.
While some stakeholders were pushing to get the NEPA study done first, others were worried about spending the money up front and the study details being outdated before funding for the actual construction could be attained.
Missouri Department of Transportation Area Engineer Judy Wagner, who joined the meeting by phone, stressed they had to have some kind of construction plan in place before paying for the NEPA study, which could take up to a year to complete.
“You have to have the cart and the horse together to present to MoDOT,” Wagner said. “You also have to determine how much money each entity can come up with for their share and leverage more from the state.”
The estimated project cost to eliminate the traffic congestion at Highways 47 and 50 and relocate the railroad bridge near County Farm Road is $22 million.
That number could be split in half to $11 million if Union and Franklin County are successful in obtaining cost-share funds from the state of Missouri.
Union City Administrator Russell Rost told the group it would break down to about $3.5 million needed from his city, Franklin County and the Union Special Road District if they agreed to join in the project.
He added much of the funding from Union would hopefully come from grants.
“It may take us two or three budget years,” Rost said. “I think it’s something Union can participate in. It worked when we did Highway 50. I think they can work again and the participation levels may be different.”
During the funding brainstorming session, the idea of imposing new or raising current sales taxes in current community improvement (CID) and transportation development districts (TDD) already in place along the Highway 47 corridor also was discussed.
Rost said the sales tax rates in those types of districts in Union are already near their ceilings and business owners already complain the higher economic district make it harder for them to compete for business on similar products.
The idea of asking voters to approve a new special use tax was roundly rejected, but the idea was discussed if a sunset clause was placed on the tax and it was not extended.
The city of Union, Franklin County and the Union Special Road District officials will meet next week to lay plans for their memorandums of understanding.