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By the time you read this, the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission will have made a decision on the redistricting plan and the ultimate closing of district offices. That decision may be to follow the plan that has been talked about across the state in a series of public meetings, it may be to consider a plan proposed in Howell County that would keep the Willow Springs office intact, or the decision may be to wait.
Clearly, the plan proposed by the Willow Springs group appears to be the best option for us here in Douglas County.
Although the commission’s proposal would keep us in the Southwest District with the district office in Springfield as it is now, we would be in a much larger district– an urban district with hundreds of miles of interstate highway. Under the proposed plan, Ozark, Douglas, Wright and Laclede counties would form the eastern boundary of a district that would run to the state line on the west. There would be only two districts – Southwest and Southeast –across the south tier of the state. One district office would be in Springfield, the other in Sikeston
The commission’s streamlining would reduce the number of districts from 10 to seven. The Willow Springs plan would create an eighth district, with Willow Springs keeping its office and moving Douglas, Ozark, Wright and Laclede counties into that South Central District.
Actually, the eighth-district plan was proposed to MoDOT Director Kevin Keith by a steering committee early on, the West Plains Quill revealed last Friday. The steering committee’s report was obtained by Wendell Bailey, of Willow Springs, through the Freedom of Information Act. Keith, however, sidestepped the recommendation of the steering committee and proposed reducing the number of districts to seven, not eight.
West Plains City Administrator Royce Fugate, in a letter to the Highway and Transportation Commission published in the Quill last week, made some good points in favor of the eighth-district plan.
The headquarters office of the southeast district would be on the east edge of the state – very close to the New Madrid fault – and the office of the southwest district would be 70 miles from the west side, and about 240 miles between the two offices.
At a meeting at the Ava Community Center a couple of weeks ago, Ava Mayor Eddie Maggard questioned the long-range effect of fuel costs and wear and tear on equipment when district boundaries are expanded by hundreds of miles. Willow Springs Mayor Jay Waggoner also attended the meeting in Ava and shared information in favor of keeping the Willow Springs office.
The added miles alone is reason enough for us to favor a district office at Willow Springs. But even more important is the logistical issue. Under the Springfield office we are a low population, rural community competing for attention (and dollars) with Springfield-Ozark-Nixa, Joplin, Branson and I-44.
Fugate, a former MoDOT district engineer, understands the logistics of the various regions. In his own words, in the letter published in the Quill last week, “Springfield will be more of an urban district. Sikeston district is more a flat lands district with needs and problems much different than Ozarks covered by District 9.”
Whether we are served by a district office in Springfield or Willow Springs, we will be about the same distance from the main office. But establishing a third district across the southern part of the state and reducing the miles between offices has to make good sense.