By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A request that the Joplin City Council authorize the city to ink agreements with the federal and state governments to accept $15 million in funding for street projects triggered a call from one councilman to back off a proposal to build a viaduct on 15th Street.
Assistant Public Works Director Jack Schaller told the council Monday night that the agreements with the Federal Highway Administration and the Missouri Department of Transportation spell out the timeline for projects the grant would cover, along with how the money is to be spent and other details.
The money was awarded to Joplin earlier this year for construction of viaducts on 15th and 20th streets to carry traffic over train tracks, and for street widening projects on sections of 26th Street, Schifferdecker Avenue and Maiden Lane.
Councilman Morris Glaze asked how much the railroads are paying toward the cost of the viaducts. Schaller said the railroads so far have offered $750,000, but there is a meeting next week with Kansas City Southern Railway Co. officials at which they will be asked to provide a larger share of the cost. Glaze asked if there is enough money from the grant to pay for both viaducts. Schaller said there is a shortfall of about $1.5 million.
The proposal is to build a four-lane bridge on 20th Street with a lane for pedestrians and bicyclists. The bridge on 15th Street is proposed as a two-lane bridge.
Councilman Bill Scearce said the council had heard from a business owner who does not want to lose his business to viaduct construction on 15th Street. Scearce said the City Council has not authorized the city staff to proceed with building a viaduct there.
Schaller said the city’s agreements with the FHA and MoDOT stipulate that the 15th Street bridge would be built only if there is enough money available, and at this time the city is short. He said the goal is to get a proposal designed and then see where the project stands. Once a design is done, the city staff will talk to property owners in the area to get their input on how it would affect them and would work changes into the plan to address their concerns.
Scearce asked whether anyone else on the council thought the design work should not progress since the council has not authorized the project.
Councilman Jack Golden said there could be positive factors for property owners in the path of the proposed viaduct.
Those owners would have to be paid for relocation or loss of business as well as for the real estate.
Councilman Gary Shaw said the design work could proceed, and then the council could decide whether to build the projects when it is asked to authorize construction contracts. “By looking into it, I don’t think we’re making a decision hard and fast,” Shaw said.
Golden asked the city attorney if the city would be committed to build the bridge if it approved the grant agreement at hand.
City Attorney Brian Head said the agreement specifies that the city can pull out of the 15th Street project if there is not enough money to pay for it.
Glaze said the 15th Street project is the result of residents’ requests to create a quiet zone through the city to eliminate the disturbance of train noise.
Schaller said the purpose of getting rid of the train crossings is to improve safety by eliminating car-train collisions on those streets.
The council vote was 5-1-1 in favor of proceeding with the federal agreement. Scearce dissented, and Golden abstained. Two of the nine-member council, Michael Seibert and Benjamin Rosenberg, were absent.
A vote on the agreement with MoDOT was approved 6-1, with Scearce dissenting.
In other business, the council authorized a tax break for Heartland Pet Food Manufacturing Inc., which has announced it will build its main manufacturing plant for Blue Buffalo products in Joplin’s Crossroads Center Business and Distribution Park.
City Planner Troy Bolander said the city would waive 100 percent of the company’s taxes for 10 years in exchange for the operation creating 131 jobs that would pay about $36,000, though he did not know the dollar amount of the tax breaks. He told the Globe that the dollar value would depend on the assessed value that is determined on the plant and its equipment after it is built.
THE JOPLIN COUNCIL asked the city staff to look into the feasibility of a request by the widow of a Joplin police officer to provide health insurance for families of officers killed in the line of duty. Tracy Nielson Gribben’s husband, Officer Tim Nielson, died in 2004 of burn injuries he suffered in the explosion of a house where he was dispatched to check on the well-being of a resident.