MoDOT changes mind in funding interchange

rpulley@lsjournal.comJanuary 17, 2014 

Lee’s Summit Mayor Randy Rhoads and the Lee’s Summit Journal are sharing a “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment.

Rhoads brandished a copy of the Journal at the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce breakfast Jan. 17, pointing to the headline “MoDOT says no to funding interchange.”

“Last night they said yes,” Rhoads said.

The city wants to rebuild the interchange at U.S. 50 and Missouri 291 South. It was planning to rely on the Missouri Department of Transportation to pay for about half of the $16 million project. Lee’s Summit is asking voters to approve a $10 million bond issue for the project.

However, the Missouri Highway Commission on Jan. 8 decided to suspend a cost-sharing program of MoDOT where Lee’s Summit was hoping to get matching funds.

When the city got word last week, community leaders began to lobby the agency for help.

On Jan. 16, the city got word it would be getting $8 million.

Back to Dewey for a moment.

For readers who don’t know, during the 1948 presidential election the Chicago Tribune, a paper where editors had low regard for Truman, infamously published the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

Truman actually had won the election.

The error happened because of a compounding of events. Pundits and polls indicated Dewey was going to win, while the Chicago Tribune faced early deadlines because of a printer’s strike and relied on incomplete vote tallies.

This week, as the Journal pages headed to the printer for its Jan. 17 edition, City Hall was getting a call from MoDOT with a verbal commitment for the $8 million.

At the Jan. 16 evening city council work session, City Manager Steve Arbo made the announcement. The council on its agenda had been poised to discuss whether to change the bond issue to the full $16 million or call off the election.

Arbo said the city was successful in getting help from the agency because it had historically been a good partner with MoDOT.

“We put a lot of emphasis on our relationship with MoDOT,” he said.

Rhoads had called one of the highway commissioners who lives in Kansas City. Jim Devine, president of the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council, was making calls, and local representatives to the Missouri General Assembly were making inquiries.

The city expects written confirmation of the money and other details soon.

Rhoads said the announcement from MoDOT is an improvement over the prior situation, because the cost-share program would have been competitive.

While MoDOT officials indicated Lee’s Summit’s application stood a good chance of approval, it wasn’t guaranteed. The amount might have been less than $8 million.

“Now we know,” Rhoads said. “We can go full bore on the campaign.”

The city expects to get written confirmation of the allocation and details today.

Gene Gamber, of the Friends of Lee’s Summit, a local group formed to promote good government and finance campaigns, said MoDOT’s announcement was good news.

The group had been raising money for the upcoming campaign, which will be led by the LSEDC and the Lee’s Summit Gateway Business Alliance, a group of business leaders who promote good access for transportation.

Gamber said the highway improvements are crucial for the city.

“It is absolutely one of the most important things we’ve had in a while,” Gamber said. “It will make property accessible for redevelopment, it’s a positive thing.

“The mayor and Steve Arbo need a lot of credit for what they accomplished.”

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