City revisits Highway 19 turn lane proposals

Dave Marner

Owensville Mayor John Kamler told Gasconade County R-2 School District he owed it to a regional transportation advisory group to pursue a cost-share program to add turn lanes by the school campus or “let it go.”

Kamler addressed Superintendent Dr. Chuck Garner and Glenn Ely, president of the Board of Education, at the city’s June 4 meeting telling them the city was ready to go forward in a partnership to seek Missouri Transportation Finance Corporation (MTFC) funding to turn-lane additions near the campus or shelve the project completely.

Preston Kramer, a Missouri Department of Transportation engineer for the Central District which includes Gasconade County, was also present at the meeting and gave a review of the overall scope of the projects originally proposed in 2013. Then, the city began a cost-share project with MoDOT and the MTFC which created the center turn lane from Krausetown Road to Walmart’s upper entrance.

That cost-share program was discontinued but has been resumed, Kramer said.

“I still think the turn lane out there would be a good project and it would get approved,” said Kramer. 

The MTFC is a not-for-profit state fund for transportation and infrastructure projects and does not use MoDOT money. The interest rates are typically very low. Funds used for the previous turn lane project were below the rate of inflation, said Kramer.

Funds for Fiscal Year 2019 are already spoke for but Kramer said the city and the school district could be in line for FY 2020 funding.

That cycle, Kramer said, “is flush with cash” and waiting for projects.

He told the group they can revisit to continue improving the traffic safety flow around the campus even though the district took measures to reduce congestion on Highway 19 by constructing an interior heavy-haul road to more easily move bus traffic between the three schools.

Kramer said he could help the city and the school district prepare the application for MTFC funding. Although funding is not guaranteed, Kramer said he has not had an application he prepared rejected.

Once a project is awarded, the funding is committed, said Kramer.

The city and county’s representatives to the Meramec Regional Planning Commission’s Transportation Advisory Committee, or TAC, have repeatedly scored well on ranking the turn-lane project by the school campus. It has been ranked first in recent voting cycles, according to Kamler.

“My duty is to move this project forward or take it off the list,” said Kamler.

The city also has separate options for making improvements to sections of Highway 19 from the Highway 28 intersection north to the railroad overpass. Options for a turn lane into the Hometown Plaza development, Nursing Home Road and East Springfield, Thunder Alley, and the industrial park at Commercial are all included in various proposals presented in 2013.

Prices then ranged from $2,899,423 for the entire project (including improvements in front of the school’s campus), to $1,834,383 (focusing on the school campus south to the industrial park/Commercial Drive intersection and including Old Highway 19), $1,065,040 (two-way turn lanes from Commercial back south to Highway 28), and $619,550 (turn lanes at Commercial only).

“Projects that get funding are ones we would do ourselves if we could fund then,” said Kramer. “We would do this project if we had the means to…absolutely we would.”

Jerry Lairmore, commissioner for the Southern District and a former R-2 Board of Education member, said this plan developed out the desire to improve safety along Highway 19 by the school campus.

“I want to work with the city and school to move it forward or take it off (the TAC list),” said Lairmore.

City Administrator Nathan Schauf added the project “does generate a lot of interest at the TAC.”

Kramer said if the city and school district decide to partner up to make the improvements, they should come to a decision on target date in 2020 to proceed. Work can be done during the summer months of 2020 to avoid school traffic. The two entities would need to define the scope of the project. 

“You could build next summer if everything falls in place correctly, or the summer of 2020 easily,” said Kramer. 

“We owe it to TAC communities to pursue or let it go,” said Kamler. 

Two aldermen who spoke on the issue agreed. 

Cathy Lahmeyer, who represents the first ward, thought the project would be good for “future growth” of the community.

Karl Buck, who stepped down later in the meeting as part of a planned departure from his Ward 1 seat, agreed, adding, “the town will only grow. We owe it to the residents to pursue this project.”

Lahmeyer agreed the two entities should make a decision “collectively or release the list.”

Cost estimates from the 2013 proposal had turn lanes and improvements just in the school campus area at $1,214,833. At that time, the estimate was broken down with the city’s funding portion at 50 percent of the project — or $607,416. The Central District cost for MoDOT was listed at 20 percent, or $242,967, with the cost-share portion from MTFC at 30 percent — or $364,450. 

The proposal would have the school district, if it decided to participate pick up a yet undetermined portion of the city’s 50 percent share.

Garner said he and Ely plan to present what they learned to the full board at the district’s next meeting on Monday, June 25. That meeting happens one week later than usual as the district typically meets as close to the end of the month of June as it can to close out the books on the fiscal year budget which ends June 30.

Garner said Owensville police have reported 13 “rear-ender” crashes have occurred on, or near, school grounds over the past three years. The report did not specify how many of those were on Highway 19 and how many took place on school property in either parking lots or driveways.

The district’s interior bus road helped reduce the traffic flow on Highway 19 which was funneling all entering traffic into the middle school entrance. That often backed traffic up south on Highway 19 to the railroad overpass and beyond during the morning and afternoon delivery and pickup periods, Garner noted.

The district funded the project with proceeds from the 2015 $5.5 million “no tax increase” bond issue voters approved for capital projects including a classroom addition to the elementary school in Owensville, new buses, and parking lot and exterior lighting upgrades.The bond issue also funded development of the STEM program and technology upgrades.