JEFFERSON CITY — Despite the pandemic, 2020 has been the Missouri Department of Transportation’s best year for completing construction projects in a decade, a MoDOT official told the legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation.
Patrick McKenna, director of the department, said the state has 372 active construction projects. The Statewide Transportation Improvement Program has 665 projects for 2020–21 and nearly 12,000 projects planned for 2020–24.
The Department of Transportation shared updates Wednesday with state lawmakers about its activities over the past six months, and how it reacted after the pandemic hit.
“Everybody is being diligent with social distance and doing the things that need to be done,” McKenna said.
For instance, McKenna talked about an urgent repair the department did Labor Day on the Route 51/Chester bridge in Perry County over the Mississippi River, after discovering deterioration that forced the department to put new weight limit signs on the bridge.
MoDOT is working on replacing or restoring 17 bridges in the Southeast district, McKenna said.
The department has been able to complete a large number of projects despite difficulties created by the pandemic.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, the department decided to slow down purchases and hiring and delayed new construction and advertising projects, with savings of more than $360 million. It also reduced the salary of around a hundred workers by 5% and cut 10% of the deputy director’s and director’s salaries.
The department started hiring in August, however, to increase the number of workers ahead of winter maintenance. But since a single maintenance facility serves over 80 counties, potential Covid-19 infections would be a big challenge for them.
“If we lose a crew for a two-week period in the middle of winter, we can have a severe impact on the essential services we provide during winter,” McKenna said.
Also, the MoDOT director said the department is seeking a one-year extension on the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, also known as FAST Act, which is about to expire this month. That would assure funding for one more year while Congress renews the transportation spending plan.