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While it’s easy to recognize major road work underway across Springfield — especially if it’s on your daily commute — the sheer amount of transportation projects recently completed, ongoing and planned in the city is more difficult to track.
That’s why leaders from the Springfield Public Works Department, the Greene County Highway Department and the Missouri Department of Transportation took Springfield City Council members on a virtual transportation project tour on Sept. 19.
Held annually, the comprehensive presentation highlights transportation projects from all three agencies that have recently been completed, are in the works or are planned for not just roads, but sidewalks, bridges, parking lots and other components of the transportation network.
“This is always such a valuable presentation to learn about what we’ve done and kind of what’s coming up and also really illustrates the strong partnerships we have in the area,” Councilmember Matthew Simpson said.
Springfield, Greene County highlight recent project completions
Improvements to East Division Street and Jefferson Avenue in Downtown Springfield are among the most visible and significant transportation projects that were recently wrapped up.
Division Street, between National Avenue and Glenstone Avenue, got a $4.7 million facelift, which saw the roadway be completely rebuilt, added stormwater drainage and a new sidewalk and multi-use path.
The Jefferson Avenue streetscaping project — which took place between St. Louis Street and Walnut Street — improved ADA accessibility, stormwater infrastructure and the roadway itself, as well as the streetscape, which included new decorative street lighting and pedestrian and traffic signals.
The $1.8 million project, which was initially anticipated to last 90 days, encountered several delays, opening prior to the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival.
“Every time we do a project downtown, it’s complicated,” Public Works Principal Engineer Paula Brookshire said. “There’s always something we don’t expect and as much as we try to anticipate it, there’s something that you find underground that you didn’t expect in the downtown area.”
Brookshire and other Public Works staff also highlighted improvements made to various intersections around Springfield, including Kimbrough Avenue and St. Louis, Washington Avenue and Division and South Avenue and Pershing Street, among others, in addition to work completed on the Fassnight Trail and battery backup systems around Springfield.
Angela Nelson, the project manager for the Greene County Highway Department, highlighted the work done at the intersection of Farm Road 115 and Farm Road 140, which is located just west of Springfield, directly south of Interstate 44 and Chestnut Expressway. Nelson said that they’re “pretty happy with the overall project,” which cost $1.8 million, increasing the capacity and safety of the intersection by adding a roundabout, as well as right turn lanes.
Transportation projects in the works
Major projects on the calendar include the widening of Republic Road, Grant Avenue Parkway and improvements on East Battlefield Road, with intersection improvements coming to National and Sunshine Street and ADA upgrades to 19 different intersections around Springfield.
The Highway Department continues work on the Kansas Expressway extension project which, after months of delay, is nearing the completion of Phase 1, which will extend Kansas Expressway from Republic Road to Plainview Road.
Brett Foster, a traffic engineer with Public Works, highlighted Neighborhood Works, a program between Public Works and the Springfield-Greene County Park Board in which neighborhoods can submit applications for smaller projects, such as sidewalk upgrades, traffic calming measures and quality of place improvements. Foster said 20 projects have been selected by the Neighborhood Advisory Council for the current cycle of funding, totaling $650,000.
MoDOT is working on its own set of ADA upgrades, as well as other safety improvements, along Glenstone Avenue and Kearney Street — estimated to cost a combined $25.7 million — in addition to intersection improvements on Kansas Expressway at Walnut Lawn and Sunset Street, and wrapping up the widening of the James River Freeway between National and Kansas.
Looking ahead, Springfield streets are set to undergo plenty more transportation projects of all sizes, some unfunded, some still in the design phase and some nearing construction.
Public Works has a lineup of bridges that have a need, or will have a future need, of structural improvements for drivers and pedestrians, including on Walnut, just east of Kansas Expressway, Scenic Avenue over Wilson’s Creek, Main Avenue, next to the Hotel of Terror, and the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge, a project that was allocated $8 million in the state budget this year.
“This is a very unique project and one that we’ve been talking about for years…and to try to keep that historic nature of the bridge and make the repairs, it’s not an easy project and it’s not an inexpensive project and comes with a lot of challenges,” Brookshire said of the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge.
They are also planning a slew of signal improvements to intersections around Springfield, including implementing a more “traditional” design at National and Division. The City Council will soon vote on the acceptance of federal funds for a host of trail projects, including the South Creek and Jordan Creek trails.
Additional lanes are planned for stretches of South Campbell Avenue and South National, and Public Works is moving forward with the design of extending Eastgate Avenue north of Division, connecting it to Le Compte Road, as well as the widening of Le Compte, although state funding was vetoed for by Gov. Mike Parson in June. Due to an error, the amount in the proposed budget was 10 times the $3.4 million that was sought for the project. The project is currently set to be funded through the ⅛-cent transportation sales tax, grant funds and a cost-share agreement with the Springfield Underground, which is located on Le Compte.
Director of Public Works Dan Smith said he feels confident that, in working with the Underground, they will be able to find the remaining funded need to help complete the overall project.
“We’re still working through that final detail on the funding that we think we’ll get there,” Smith said.
Meanwhile, the Highway Department will move right into Phase 2 of the Kansas Expressway extension project following the completion of Phase 1, which will extend the thoroughfare south of Plainview before veering west just before the James River — the actual river — and ending at Cox Avenue.
While MoDOT has several projects planned throughout the city, including a Sunshine Street bridge replacement, and additional corridor and ADA improvements on Sunshine and Chestnut, respectively, the widening of I-44 to six lanes and Kansas Expressway interchange improvements at I-44 are perhaps the biggest transportation projects in and around Springfield.
Collaboration key for current, future success, funding
Councilmember Abe McGull commended the collaboration of the city, the county and the state on the collections of transportation projects around Springfield, encouraging them to find ways to tell the story of the successes that come with road work amid negative feedback.
“I don’t know how we need to do it, and no complaint about what we’re doing because I know you all have different jobs to do on a daily basis, but somehow, some way, we need to just communicate this to our citizens,” McGull said.
While complimentary of the work that is being done, especially of ADA improvements, he did make a few suggestions that he would like to see more of around Springfield, including LED lighting on stop signs and striped crosswalks.
Councilmember Derek Lee encouraged government staff to find every opportunity to get federal funding for transportation projects.
“If there’s anything you need from us as far as ‘Hey, we need some more designs to have some shovel ready projects because some of this may be available,’ I would love to vote for something like that,” Lee said.
Foster agreed, and said that they are working with MoDOT to find ways to streamline funding, which can sometimes require a lot of strings to be pulled to get a project done.
“As everyone knows, federal projects are great. We love those funds, we appreciate that. But they also take a lot longer to complete than what the other projects were,” Foster said.
He added that a lot of opportunity for additional funding starts with safety, which has been top of mind amid continued car accidents despite safer streets and safer vehicles. While Foster acknowledged infrastructure work is still needed to improve the community, he said a lot of it has to do with behavioral issues.
Foster said that the Ozarks Transportation Organization (OTO) is putting together a regional plan for safety that will open the door for potential future funding sources.
“When you see that platform, I believe it’s going to be a great opportunity for us to get some of that funding in the future and we don’t know what that looks like, but the opportunity is not small, it’s huge,” Foster said. “These are billions of dollars of grant funds that are going to be available nationwide, and so Springfield and the OTO, we’re positioning ourselves to be ready for that.”