Lee’s Summit leaders agree on April election on U.S 50 interchange improvements

rpulley@lsjournal.comDecember 11, 2013 

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    $16.1 million is the updated estimate for a new interchange at U.S. 50 and Missouri 291 South.

    The purpose would be to relieve congestion and spur economic development for vacant land just south of the highway.

    The City Council has approved a plan for financing the project in cooperation with the Missouri Department of Transportation.

    The city is asking for matching money from the state. MoDOT will announce whether the city’s application is approved in March, so voters in April will know whether the state will finance about half of the cost.

    If approved, the city would issue $10 million in general obligation bonds to cover its share, without a tax increase. If there left over bond money after construction, the city will use it to repay outstanding bonds. The money, by law, cannot be transferred to another project or the city’s general fund.

The Lee’s Summit City Council decided to ask voters to approve a $10 million bond issue to help pay for reconstruct of the interchange of U.S. 50 and Missouri 291 South.

The council voted at its Dec. 5 meeting to draft an ordinance calling for the April election, but it will need a final vote to approve it.

Before the vote, the council heard an update on the project costs and discussed its politics.

The Missouri Department of Transportation plans to replace the Jefferson Street bridge over U.S. 50 in the next five years due to safety, said Matt Killion, area engineer with the agency. It has no plans to make it a wider bridge or other improvements to ease congestion because of budget constraints.

Killion said MoDOT would be interested in cost sharing with Lee’s Summit for a more extensive makeover, because it also wants to support economic development and improve traffic in the area.

MoDOT has pushed the estimate higher to $16.1 million, when a preliminary figure had been $10 million.

Also, the agency won’t fully commit to cost sharing until it considers other projects in a statewide, competitive process. The amount Lee’s Summit could get for its project could be from 40-to-50 percent.

That left council members facing whether to ask voters for enough to fully fund the interchange, in case the project fails to be accepted by MoDOT, or only ask voters for the city share.

“Do we really want to put a $16 million bond issue before voters?” Holland said. “I’m a little reluctant to do that.”

Holland said he wanted to keep the amount lower, but could accept $8 million or $10 million.

Councilmember Ed Cockrell said the city should ask for $10 million, enough to cover its possible share and to allow for cost overruns or other unknowns.

MoDOT is to announce its decision on the cost share by March 14, 2014. If the project fails to get the matching money, the city can pull the plug, he said.

“I could tell voters to turn it down, it’s over,” Cockrell said.

His view prevailed on a 5-2 vote, with council members Bob Johnson and David Mosby voting no. Holland initially voted with those two council members when Johnson first moved for an $8 million bond issue, but changed his vote when that motion failed. Kathy Hofmann was absent.

Mosby and Johnson argued for keeping the amount to the minimum, to save bonding capacity for other needs for economic development or an emergency, such as a storm-damaged bridge.

Johnson also said he wants property owners around the interchange to participate in a special-tax district to share in the expense, but other council members didn’t take up discussion of that idea.

Killion told the council the agency has three possible configurations for the new interchange and each costs about $16 million.

He said he wasn’t able to explain the large difference in the estimates, other that some design factors normally put into estimates had been left out of preliminary estimate.

“We’re very confident with the new one,” he said.

He said Lee’s Summit would have a good chance getting approved, but couldn’t make a commitment because it is a statewide, competitive program, and projects are chosen by a committee comparing all the requests.

If Lee’s Summit is approved, work on design would start right away on design and land acquisition after a successful election in the city,

By the time the design and land acquisition was complete, MoDOT would have money in its budget for construction, Killion said.

Under that scenario, the new interchange could open as early as 2018.

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