Interstate 44 Interchange

As the rest of the world came to a screeching halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Missouri Department of Transportation stayed busy completing more 541 projects statewide and issuing $100 million more in payments to contractors in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the department’s annual report released earlier this month. 

 

Officials from around the county have criticized Missouri Department of Transportation officials for their lack of response to requests.

The criticisms came at the March 18 meeting of the Franklin County Transportation Committee. County Highway Administrator Jim Grutsch read an email from Pacific City Administrator Steve Roth expressing “continued difficulties” with the MoDOT local roads program.

Roth wrote that he sent an email about a Highway N project Nov. 7. “Silence,” Roth wrote. “Requested an update in the January time frame. Still silence.”

After contacting the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, an official there contacted MoDOT. Roth wrote that he then contacted another MoDOT official, who approved the request in one day.

“Thankfully it was approved, but we lost four months for no good reason,” Roth wrote. “It’s very frustrating.”

Roth suggested the committee send a letter to state Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, to make him aware of the issue.

Grutsch said he also recently had an experience with MoDOT that is preventing him from going out to bid on a bridge project.

“They’ve had the information for four months,” he said. “It’s like pulling teeth to get an answer. Really all I can do is email, because phone calls go to voicemail, and you don’t get a response.”

New Haven City Administrator Kathleen Trentmann expressed similar frustration.“They don’t respond to email or a phone call,” she said.

Presiding County Commissioner Tim Brinker told committee members they must be persistent to get a response.

“One thing I’ve learned on a very steep curve coming in here is that you can’t just send something and hope it gets back,” he said. “You’ve got to grind it once a week, put it on your reminder file — call, call, call, send another email, call. … It takes two to tango.”

Berger Mayor Harold Englert alleged an employee told him that MoDOT staff were screening calls.

“And that’s what a whole lot of them people down there do,” Englert said.

Others expressed frustration with getting a response when mailing items to MoDOT, where the office has had minimal staff because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Another wondered why MoDOT Area Engineer Stephen O’Connor has not been coming to transportation committee meetings.

“MoDOT will not allow their people to participate in meetings such as this because of the COVID,” Grutsch said.

O’Connor could not immediately be reached for comment.

The meeting narrowly had a quorum, even though the committee recently passed a rule allowing each city to appoint a second representative to the transportation committee in case the primary member can’t attend. Despite the rule change, Washington, Union and Pacific were not represented.