Bidding is scheduled to open in May on construction of a traffic light at U.S. Highway 60 and Kodiak Road as part of improvements planned for the Transportation Development District, the Neosho City Council was apprised Tuesday.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is part one of a two part report on a Tuesday discussion regarding the Transportation Development District.

Bidding is scheduled to open in May on construction of a traffic light at U.S. Highway 60 and Kodiak Road as part of improvements planned for the Transportation Development District, the Neosho City Council was apprised Tuesday.

The start of the project, however, is dependent upon a signed cooperative agreement between the city and the TDD, which acts as its own political entity. Also, that agreement needs to happen within a couple of weeks, according to a Monday afternoon email from Missouri Department of Transportation director Kevin Keith to Mayor Richard Davidson. A printed copy of the email was shared at the council meeting.

Council members were unhappy that they had not been notified of the deadline until now.

“It's the first time in six or seven months in going to TDD meetings and talking to TDD board members  that I've ever heard that date,” Davidson said of the May bid opening. “I guess I was a little surprised that with all of the discussions that have happened regarding funding, with all the things that could go wrong, that no one bothered to mention to us 'oh, by the way, here's the real thing we're working for, here's the goal we're trying to achieve. Let's work backwards from that and work together and make this happen.'”

According to the email from Keith, though the other improvements planned for the TDD won't begin until 2013, MoDOT will be ready to bid the traffic signal at Kodiak and Highway 60 in May for completion this year, but will first need to have “all agreements signed and in our hands” by at least a week before March 1, when the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission plans to revise its Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

“I am concerned because in all of the discussions with the TDD board this is the first time we've heard that in order for there to be a stoplight at Kodiak and U.S. Highway 60 done this year we need an agreement within two weeks,” said councilman David Ruth.

The city won't sign off on a cooperative agreement until it has more detail about future roads within the TDD, which the city will be maintaining, including what roads will be constructed exactly, and where they will go, as well as how they are to be built. The TDD has also requested an unspecified amount of money from the city’s Tax Increment Financing District fund and the city has formally responded with inquiries about the proposed amount and use of that money. That request for more information was made three weeks ago, according to Davidson and city attorney Steve Hays, but there has been no response from the TDD attorney, they said. Both the maintenance agreement, which is affected by the final road plan, and any transfer of TIF funds, should be wrapped up in the future cooperative agreement that MoDOT says it needs in two weeks.

“We don’t have an agreement back from the TDD, we don’t have a plan from the TDD, and I don’t see that happening in two weeks,” Ruth said.

“With all of the publicity that traffic light has got, imagine the surprise I had when it was ‘oh, by the way, we’re planning to bid that thing,’” Davidson added later. “We’re six months into the TDD’s cost share approval and this is the first time we hear about it. I hope we can spend less time trying to say what could go wrong if things don’t happen and more time communicating the true efforts and the true needs so we can get all of our oars rowing in the same direction. We spent a lot of time and effort working on things. Had we known three months ago that this was coming up I don’t see any of us doing anything other than working the hardest we could to get it done. It’s a little late now to get it done by the timeline they have asked.”

TDD board chairman Gene Schwartz agreed Wednesday that two weeks might not be enough time for the city and the TDD to come to a cooperative agreement, but said he hoped it would happen within a month. He said he hoped something positive would follow the next TDD board meeting on Feb. 22.

“We’re hopeful we can move this thing along,” Schwartz said. “We need to. It’s the best thing that’s going to happen for the town. I just don’t understand why the city has to question everything we’ve done. We’re trying to do this thing right.”

Davidson said Tuesday that the city needed a final road plan to understand how wide the new roads will be, how many miles of roads there will be and how those roads are to be built, which ties back to being able to provide a cost for maintaining those roads.

Schwartz said that MoDOT should wrap up an engineering study this week and that the city ought to have some answers soon, but that the TDD didn’t have the money to pay for a final engineering design.

“We’re not going to spend that kind of money and then the city say we don’t like this and we don’t like that, and have to start all over,” Schwartz said.

But Davidson said after Tuesday’s meeting that the city wasn’t after a final engineering design, only a more detailed final plan.

“It needs to be something that we can say with a very high level of confidence that this is where they’re going to build the roads, this is where the roads are going to be, this is how they’re going to be constructed,” Davidson said. “We don’t need to see final engineering plans that will be sent out to people to bid on, but if it’s a 28-foot wide road made of concrete with curb and guttering versus a 26-foot-wide road made of asphalt and no curb and guttering, those things cost a different amount to maintain. All of those things are still in a fluid stage. The TDD has not finalized them — at least we’re not aware of them finalizing them. We need that detail. We’ve requested that information and we’re still waiting on that information to come back to us.”

Schwartz said that the TDD has asked MoDOT to include those things in its study to be presented at the Feb. 22 meeting and “then hopefully move fairly quickly after that.”

“Nobody can stipulate exactly how everything is going to fit in that road,” Schwartz said. “I’m not an engineer and neither is the city council, but I think the highway department should be as qualified as anybody to determine what needs to be done. We’re going to follow their specs. The city has known that all along. I don’t know why they keep questioning it. Because if they’re questioning the highway department’s rules and regulations on streets I think they’re totally wrong. Because they build better roads than any of these streets you see here in town.”

Schwartz also said the city was never specific about which new streets would need curbs and guttering.

Davidson said that since the TDD has now requested public city funds, via the TIF money, the city asked three weeks ago to see the TDD’s financial plan “to understand why those funds are necessary, where those funds will be used and how much the TDD is looking for,” since some of that money is already dedicated to paying off existing TIF debt and can’t be jeopardized.

“While there are some deadlines out there that we only just now know about, we still have not received the information we requested,” Davidson said during Tuesday’s meeting. “Unless the council tells me differently, I believe we’re still committed to making this project happen as quickly and efficiently as we can. But when you throw in the fact that the TDD has now requested that TIF monies be thrown in this project, and those TIF monies are in essence city taxpayer funds, I’m confident this city council is going to do their job and take their time to do their due diligence. Before putting taxpayer funds into any project, regardless if it's the TDD or anything else, we’re going to make sure it’s done right and we’re going to make sure those taxpayer funds are respected and that we treat them as we would if were spending the money ourselves.”

Davidson said he has proposed to MoDOT chief Keith that the Kodiak/Highway 60 portion of the TDD project be taken as a separate cooperative agreement because the main concerns about the other parts of the improvement plan don’t apply to that stoplight.

Ruth agreed.

“There is no reason for the TDD board, or MoDOT or for anybody to delay putting that stoplight in,” Ruth said. “I have talked to nobody that says that is not a dangerous intersection and doesn’t need to be done...That intersection is there, traffic accidents happen there all the time, let’s work with MoDOT, see if MoDOT will work with the city, and get that traffic light put in regardless of what else happens. I expect the TDD agreement to be done as soon as they get the agreement back to us. There is nothing in there we can’t work out. We’re moving forward as fast as we can. So let’s don’t hold that intersection and that stoplight hostage.”

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See more on this discussion, as well as other coverage of the Neosho City Council meeting, in Friday’s Neosho Daily News.