MoDOT seeks to save millions over five years

Thursday, March 11, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — Missouri transportation officials said Wednesday they plan to save more than $200 million over the next five years by reducing staff and cutting spending on things such as inventory, vehicles and grass-cutting.

The Department of Transportation said part of the savings would come by eliminating 400 salaried positions by July 2013. The agency said it can reduce the work force without layoffs by not filling 75 percent of the vacancies for salaried positions.

Transportation Department spokesman Jorma Duran said there are about 6,300 salaried and hourly employees for the agency. He said turnover among all job positions is about 200 per year. Figures solely for salaried employees were not immediately available.

Besides cutting staff, transportation officials plan to spend less on materials and capital improvements.

The Transportation Department plans to cut its vehicle fleet and the buildings and offices it owns and spend less on information technology and the materials it keeps in inventory. The agency also plans to mow grass, pick up litter and replace signs less frequently and to seek cheaper ways to stripe roads.

Duran said the spending cuts will not affect transportation projects that already are planned. He said one of the reasons for the cuts is to ensure there is enough money to maintain the road improvements that already have been made.

The state Highways and Transportation Commission approved the cost-cutting plan Wednesday.

Missouri Transportation Director Pete Rahn has warned for several years that the agency faced impending budget problems with federal transportation money drying up and a state funding boost for transportation running out. Voters in 2004 approved a ballot measure that authorized new bonding to be paid off by redirecting existing state tax revenues.

Rahn said Wednesday that the spending cuts were not an easy decision but are necessary. He said the quality of roads in Missouri has improved while highway deaths have fallen to their lowest level since 1950.

"I have been saying for quite some time that transportation funding is headed over a cliff," Rahn said. "Now we are forced to make tough decisions that will make MoDOT smaller and change the way we do business."

The Transportation Department this year already has postponed about $130 million worth of highway projects because of continued uncertainty about federal funding. In February, the agency said it was canceling a bid opening for $60 million worth of road and bridge projects. On Tuesday, transportation officials said they also canceled the March bid opening.

Uncertainty on federal funding exists because the highway bill passed by Congress last year has about a quarter less funding annually than the previous highway program. Congress has not agreed on legislation to boost state highway funding.

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