I-44 at the Kansas Expressway interchange at 5 p.m. on March 25, 2022. (Photo by Bruce Stidham, Stidz Media)

The Greene County Commission gave its preliminary support to an expanded effort to widen the most heavily trafficked 4.7 miles of Interstate 44 in Springfield.

Under the plan, the highway would be widened from four lanes to six between Kansas Expressway and U.S. Highway 65 — and it would be paid for, in part, with federal money.

That’s according to Greene County Highway Administrator Adam Humphrey, who explained plans to the county commission March 22 .

Leading up to this effort, the Ozarks Transportation Organization (OTO) contacted Greene County about getting the county’s help preparing an application for a federal infrastructure grant for the Springfield region.

In February of 2020, OTO compiled and submitted information for a federal infrastructure grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. At that time, the Greene County Commission voted to obligate $1 million for a cost-share project to supplement the grant application.

Summary

The Ozarks Transportation Organization is a metropolitan group that makes decisions about transportation projects and development in Springfield and the surrounding area. Its members plan to ask the federal government for $70 million to fund about $120 million worth of work on Interstate 44 and the Highway 13/Kansas Expressway interchange.

I-44 at the Kansas Expressway interchange at 5 p.m. on March 25, 2022. (Photo by Bruce Stidham, Stidz Media)

“The nature of the improvements at that time was to widen I-44 out to six lanes throughout the Springfield area, which included rehabilitating the existing four-lane section, plus the addition of an additional travel lane in each direction, expanding I-44 into the median within its existing permit,” Humphrey said.

Greene County Second District Commissioner John C. Russell is also the chairman of the OTO Board of Directors.

“I was excited about this before, and will be excited to support it again, even more so because it’s going to include some of these improvements to the Highway 13 interchange,” Russell said.

First District Commissioner Rusty MacLachlan and Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon also expressed early support for the idea.

“It sounds like a good plan to me,” Dixon said.

Funding for the project still up in the air

The OTO estimates it will cost upwards of $120 million to widen I-44, but the amount of federal funding it will ask for is about $70 million.

Humphrey said that the OTO is likely to approach the Springfield City Council for a $3 million contribution. The Missouri Department of Transportation and other entities could also become involved in paying for the project, but Humphrey said that a local match, even 0.83 percent, could help Springfield’s cause in receiving money for I-44.

“The local contributions from other entities other than just MoDOT on the corridor should increase the competitiveness on the grant application,” Humphrey said.

Humphrey feels that the future widening of I-44 is inevitable, it’s just a matter of how the project will be funded that is up for question.

“There is coming a day, regardless of the success of the grant or not, that MoDOT is going to be having to commit a significant amount of funding and spending to rehabilitate those I-44 travel lanes and to add some additional capacity,” Humphrey said.

Why care?

Density on our roadways is causing congestion. Missouri Department of Transportation data show that an average of 24,498 cars travel eastbound on I-44 from Kansas Expressway toward Glenstone Avenue each day. The average passenger car volume is 13,494 cars per day, while the combined semi-truck volume is 5,946 trucks per day. During peak morning rush hour, which is 8 a.m., the eastbound vehicle count at I-44 and Kansas exceeds 2,300 vehicles in that single hour.

I-44 at the Kansas Expressway interchange at 5 p.m. on March 25, 2022. (Photo by Bruce Stidham, Stidz Media)

Debbie Parks, Ozarks Transportation Organization grants administrator, briefed OTO members on the application and the gathering of support for a federal grant to widen I-44 on March 17.

“We have a baseline benefit-cost analysis already in place, and working on a narrative, so we’ll be ready to go as soon as the project is ready,” Parks said.

The readiness makes the project more competitive when it comes to winning federal grants.

The OTO held a public meeting on March 1, to gather input from residents of Springfield. People have also had the opportunity to view proposals and make comments on a website specific to the Highway 13 interchange. Some of the comments gathered at those meetings and from the website can be employed in the grant application.

“We’re getting a lot of public input. So far, it’s pretty positive for the improvements along I-44,” Parks said.

The $1 million commitment for Greene County is similar to what the commission pledged in 2020. What’s different in 2022 is the inclusion of improvements to the I-44 interchange with Highway 13 and Kansas Expressway.

While the county commission’s letter of support is likely to look a lot like the letter from 2020, it will be updated at Russell’s request.

“I would suggest including a little bit of language in there about the Highway 13 interchange and study, as well,” Russell said.

Nationwide spending

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced that it is providing $52.5 billion in funding to all 50 states and the District of Columbia under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The $52.5 billion represents an increase of more than 20 percent for Federal-aid Highway Program apportionments, comparing 2022 to 2021. This funding is distributed annually by FHWA for the Federal-aid Highway Program based on a statutory formula contained in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“We are committed to delivering on the promise of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and putting people to work modernizing our infrastructure and making it safer, more sustainable and more efficient,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

I-44 at the Kansas Expressway interchange at 5 p.m. on March 25, 2022. (Photo by Bruce Stidham, Stidz Media)

The goal is to address long-overdue needs that hamper the safety and performance of America’s roads, bridges and highways. 

“We look forward to working with transportation agencies and the communities they serve to use these resources to build a better America,” Deputy Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack said.

Federal-aid Highway Program funds are authorized periodically by Congress to assist state transportation agencies in providing for construction, reconstruction and improvement of highways and bridges and for other special-purpose programs and projects. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law establishes or continues FHWA programs and authorizes funding for those programs from the Highway Trust Fund. 

Who is impacted?

Springfield residents and commuters

Business and property owners along the I-44 corridor

Greene County, Springfield and state taxpayers

Truckers and commercial drivers

The FHWA distributes funds through a process known as an apportionment, using a statutory formula to determine the amount of money available to each state.

Humphrey told the Greene County Commission that federal funding for I-44 will free up money that MoDOT, the OTO, Greene County and Springfield could use on other projects.

“Any funding that they are successful obtaining through federal grants will lessen the burden on funding distribution through OTO and should free up additional spending in future years that could be spent on other regional projects,” Humphrey said.

Based on the funding formula, Missouri would expect to receive approximately $7 billion in federal highway funding for highways and bridges over five years. According to a statement from Secretary Buttigieg, Missouri can also expect to receive approximately $159 million over five years in formula funding to reduce transportation-related emissions, in addition to about $180 million over five years to increase the resilience of its transportation system.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger