By Debby Woodin
Opposition from business owners caused the Joplin City Council on Monday night to nix a plan to build a viaduct over the railroad tracks on 15th Street.
Several business owners along 15th Street, as well as some from Illinois Avenue north of 15th Street and one from Ninth Street, asked minutes before the 6 p.m. meeting to speak to the council about the project. The council had advanced an ordinance at its last two meetings to pay $1 million for a design plan and other work toward construction of the viaduct as well as one on 20th Street. The two viaducts were to be funded mostly from a $12 million federal grant the city had obtained for street and bridge projects. The city was still short $1.5 million for the 15th Street project and had asked the railroad to pay more toward the construction.
Mayor Pro Tem Bill Scearce had spoken against the 15th Street project at the previous meetings. He cited concerns about the effects on businesses and on traffic that would be rerouted through residential areas if the project closed Indiana Avenue and access to Illinois Avenue from 15th Street.
City Manager Mark Rohr told the council that he had directed the city staff to reconfigure the 15th Street viaduct from two lanes to four lanes, but those who asked to speak to the council said the number of lanes was not what spurred them to object to the plan. They did not want the viaduct at all. Increasing the bridge size from two lanes to four lanes would have driven the cost up by $2.1 million, Rohr said.
Edward D. “Bud” Smith, the owner of the Mid-Town Shopping Center in the 800 block of East 15th Street, told the council that while he favors other city efforts for tornado redevelopment, “by building this viaduct you will be killing business. It will be closing businesses, not growing them.”
He said the only access to his shopping center would be on Minnesota Avenue, which would eliminate a lot of business those tenants draw from passing traffic.
He called for the council to delete the 15th Street viaduct and “let the businesses on 15th Street continue to flourish.”
Chris Branch of Yates Trackside Furniture said his business has been located there 33 years. “If this bridge is funded, it will totally put us out of business,” he said.
Brad Baird, owner of several businesses at 818 E. Ninth St., showed the council a flier that was distributed in the area that reported that Ninth and 12th streets would be closed along with construction of the viaduct so that a quiet zone in which trains could pass through without having to blow their horns could be created. Baird was told that was incorrect, and that those streets would not be closed.
Troy Richards of Joplin Building Materials said that company has 32 employees with an annual payroll of $1.2 million. He said the viaduct plan would not leave any way for heavy trucks to reach his business, which would put the company out of business.
“What is really disturbing is the lack of response from the city,” Richards said. He said the city had not done any research on how the proposed project would affect those in the area.
Councilmen Gary Shaw and Mike Woolston said that talking to property owners and holding a public hearing would occur later in the steps.
Scearce had tried to stop the project earlier, contending that the council would be hesitant to vote against it later after the city had paid out the money for the design work.
Linda Teeter, an insurance agent with an office at 1321 S. Illinois Ave., said she has devoted a lot of time to working on city and civic projects and events, and has never asked for anything from the city. She said she wanted the council to strike the project before it affects surrounding businesses like hers.
There was discussion between Councilman Morris Glaze and city staff members about the need for a viaduct because train traffic is soon expected to increase from 24 a day to 39.
Woolston said the business owners seemed to be reacting out of fear of the unknown. If they gave the city time to develop the final engineering plans and property appraisals, they might be pleasantly surprised at the amounts of money they would be offered for the loss of businesses or to move their businesses, he said.
Councilman Benjamin Rosenberg made a motion to delete the 15th Street project from the ordinance the council previously approved authorizing the design work.
The panel approved that motion by a vote of 6-3, with Glaze, Woolston and Shaw voting against stopping the project.
Baird, asked for his reaction after the meeting, said, “I think it’s nice they listened to the community, to the business owners.” He said there may not have been so much opposition if the city had informed residents of the proposal at the onset of the plan.
In other action, the council:
• Approved tax breaks for Jasper Products and Allgeier, Martin & Associates. Jasper Products is constructing a $40 million addition to its plant, and Allgeier is constructing a $3.9 million office building.
• Authorized acceptance of a bid of $16,943,500 from McClanahan Construction Co. for work on the Shoal Creek Wastewater Plant, which is part of a $35 million project to update the city’s wastewater plants for which voters in 2009 authorized revenue bonds.