Transportation Planner Meeting September 23, 2020 Teleconference

MoDOT Update – director Patrick McKenna, deputy director/chief engineer Ed Hassinger, assistant chief engineer Eric Schroeter

Financial Update

  • The MoDOT Shared Work program ended September 5th. The 12-week reduced work schedule for MoDOT employees during the COVID pandemic netted $14 million in savings.
  • Teamed with these payroll cuts, reduction of overtime, spending cuts and slowed hiring, MoDOT targeted $40 million in savings.
  • As a result of these savings and better than anticipated revenues, MoDOT was able to restore project advertising that had been frozen from March thru June, with $360 million in projects restored, with the biggest chunk of that being the Buck O’Neil Bridge in Kansas City. 2
  • Director McKenna reported that despite funding concerns, MoDOT has still been moving forward with existing projects and has actually made $100 million more in construction payments in 2020 than it had at this point on the calendar a year ago.
  • He noted that maintenance is really the only area that is behind due to COVID, as the workforce reductions likely made the operations less efficient, so there will be some catching up to do.

COVID-19 Update

  • Director McKenna expressed concern related to potential COVID outbreaks at maintenance sheds this winter, which could significantly impact services. He highlighted counties that have only one maintenance shed and the potential of an outbreak at those facilities, which could in essence close it down for a two-week period. He noted that statewide, MoDOT is short roughly 400 winter employees and is having difficulty filling the positions, which means it would be difficult to shift workers around to cover if a shed is closed with COVID.
  • The MoDOT Shared Work program concluded on September 5th, ending a 12-week period where MoDOT employees worked a reduced number of hours each week.

Federal Transportation Bill 1

  • With the federal transportation bill set to expire September 30th, Director McKenna was excited to announce that the night prior to the meeting, the U.S. House of Representatives had approved HR 8337, a continuing resolution for government funding.
  • The continuing resolution would extend the FAST ACT federal transportation bill a full year, creating more stability for planning purposes, until a new five-year federal bill can be enacted.
  • A key component to the resolution was an influx of $10.4 billion in federal funds for the Highway Trust Fund. Director McKenna stated this was huge for MoDOT and other highway agencies, as it will help serve as a backstop for the 10-15% reduction in fuel consumption and subsequent lost sales tax revenues for the states.
  • The director indicated that the resolution is expected to receive Senate approval soon.
  • The federal funding uncertainty had previously forced planning month to month. If the resolution is approved by the senate, Director McKenna indicated it would allow MoDOT to move forward with advertising projects for Oct., Nov., Dec., and Jan., which are traditionally some of the largest months for construction projects.

State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP)

  • Deputy Director Hassinger reported that the likelihood of a one-year extension for federal transportation funding has MoDOT preparing to return to business as usual as it relates to planning, particularly highlighting a return to the STIP planning.
  • MoDOT officials noted that the funding uncertainty as it related to COVID as well as the federal plan, had forced the department away from the traditional planning process, working with amendments to the existing STIP instead of the traditional method of adding a new set of projects each year to the five-year plan.
  • MoDOT had worked thru 370 amendments to the existing 2020-2024 STIP, a process that Hassinger noted was not an ideal way to plan.
  • Barring any major setbacks in the next couple of months, Hassinger projected MoDOT would be turning its attention to building the next STIP.

Footnotes

1 H.R. 8337 – Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act – This bill provides continuing FY2021 appropriations to federal agencies through December 11, 2020, and extends several programs. It is known as a continuing resolution (CR) and prevents a government shutdown that would otherwise occur if the FY2021 appropriations bills have not been enacted when FY2021 begins on October 1, 2020. The CR funds most programs and activities at the FY2020 levels with several exceptions that provide funding flexibility and additional appropriations to various programs. In addition, the bill extends several authorities and programs, including surface transportation programs and actually adds $10.4 billion to the Highway Trust Fund, $3.2 billion to Mass Transit and $14 billion to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

2 The John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil Memorial Bridge (formerly the Broadway Bridge), is a triple arch bridge carrying U.S. 169 over the Missouri River serving as a key regional connection between downtown Kansas City and communities north of the river. While safe, the bridge is nearing the end of its projected lifespan. Opened in 1956, the bridge recently celebrated its 60th year of operation.  Since that time, the neighborhoods and communities on both sides of the bridge have changed significantly and now nearly 50,000 vehicles use the bridge daily.