Proposed improvements on U.S. 60 in southern Webster County between Diggins and Seymour include Phase 2 (red lines), an $18.2-million highway project that includes a new overpass at the city of Seymour's west edge, and a $6.2-million Phase 2 addition alternate (green lines), which would build an outer road on the south side of the four-lane highway, as well as an overpass, minus turn lanes, at the Short Road crossing east of Diggins across U.S. 60.

When the four-lane U.S. 60 bypassed Seymour’s business district nearly 50 years ago in 1972, right of ways were purchased along the new highway between North Division Street and North Main Street for future construction of an overpass and its ramps.

Two overpasses were built 10 miles east in Mansfield.

An overpass also was constructed 10 miles to the west in Fordland.

But Seymour got none.

Fast forward to the present, and it appears there’s a strong chance Seymour may receive its long-awaited overpass at its west intersection of U.S. 60 and West Clinton Avenue.

That was the message given last week by Webster County Presiding Commissioner Paul Ipock, Southern District Commissioner Randy Owens and County Clerk Stan Whitehurst at a special budget meeting of the Seymour Board of Aldermen, which was held last Tuesday, May 25.

Pitched by the elected trio was a $24.5-million project that includes a south-of-the-highway outer road, an overpass on U.S. 60 without ramps at Short Road west of Seymour and the aforementioned overpass at the city’s west edge near the current Hucklebucks 60 (on the north side of the highway) and McDonald’s (on the highway’s south side) restaurants.

Cost of the Seymour overpass is estimated at $18.2 million, while the price tag of all the other work is estimated at $6.3 million.

“We’ve been attempting to get grants this year for highway projects in Webster County, because at this time in our nation’s history, like none other, there are a lot of federal funds out there,” explained Ipock, R-Diggins. “And we just found out this week that money is available for earmarked projects in the U.S. Senate.”

To that end, county commissioners have been in contact with representatives from U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri who is a Webster County native.

“We feel as though we’ve got a really good shot at getting approval for this project,” Ipock said.

Owens, R-Fordland, added that for the project to receive approval, local governments must show they are willing to chip in to its funding.

“They will look more favorable at a project when you have a city or a county with ‘skin in the game,’ so to speak,” he noted. “And that’s why we’re here now, coming to you on such short notice. We want to know if you’re interested in partnering with us on this. We’re willing to commit county funds to this, but we’d like to have your help.”

On Monday, May 24, commissioners reached out to Dan Wehmer, a South Ward alderman, as well as City Administrator Hillary Gintz, gauging the city’s interest in the project.

Wehmer told the commissioners that the city of Seymour was in the opening stages of creating its budget for the upcoming 2021-22 fiscal year, which starts July 1, so the best thing to do was pitch the project to city officials at the next night’s budget meeting.

Ipock gave Gintz and the aldermen a brief history of the proposed highway improvements, noting they were part of the recent U.S. 60 Corridor Study, a four-section project that was presented throughout the county. In Seymour, attendance was the highest, drawing more than 100 guests and a bevy of questions.

“Very shortly after that plan was released, we learned in November that a Railroad Crossing Safety Grant was available,” Ipock said. “We applied ... and got approval. With this grant, an outer road from Highway Z in Fordland going east Diggins will be built. There also will be an overpass with turn lanes on U.S. 60 at Highway A in Diggins.”

“So this let you know the study you had contracted wasn’t wasted money?” Wehmer asked Ipock.

“Correct,” he answered.

“What we then decided to do was to look for more grant money to the east, which is Seymour’s way along U.S. 60. That’s why we’re here now.”

“We think we may have found some money for an overpass in Seymour,” Owens added.

South Ward Alderman Nadine Crisp expressed interest.

“I like this,” she said. “An overpass at the west end of town is needed.”

“What’s the match money?” Wehmer asked.

“We need to have at least a $1 million local match,” Ipock responded. “Tonight, we’d like to see that be 50-50, meaning we each pledge $500,000.”

He added, “We could work with 60-40.”

“Meaning 60 percent you and 40 percent us?” Wehmer asked.

“Yes,” Ipock said.

“So, $400,000 on our end?” Wehmer asked.

“Yes,” he responded.

“That’s fair ... very fair,” Wehmer said. “Stan, what did the city of Marshfield have to pay to get that second overpass? I know it was a lot of money.”

Whitehurst said the local-match total was $10 million.

“This deal’s much better than that,” Wehmer said, smiling.

“Hillary, can we afford this pledge?”

Gintz bears bad news

Gintz said she hated to be the bearer of bad news.

“No, we can’t,” she said. “Listen, I like the prospect of having an overpass on the highway for a lot of reasons. But the fact is that as soon as (the commissioners) are done with their proposal here, I’ve got the sewer guys lined up to give a presentation about the condition and state of our city sewer system and future costs that isn’t good.

“Frankly, we don’t have the money now to fix our current sewer issues. We’ve got the state and the DNR (the Missouri Department of Natural Resources) breathing down our neck, telling us that we’ve got to make changes, and those changes aren’t cheap. They are hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Crisp balked.

“We just can’t let this go,” she said.

“I agree,” Wehmer said. “So let’s just talk this out, think of some way we can make this work.”

At that point, Ipock, Owens and Whitehurst agreed to leave the room for a few minutes, so the aldermen could explore their options.

Wehmer asked for the opinion of new North Ward Alderman Darrel “Bub” Wallace.

“I see both sides of it, Dan,” Wallace said. “But at the end of the day, we can’t commit to something that we just can’t afford. If you wanted my vote on it now, my vote would be no. The sewer needs have to come first.”

Crisp said her vote was yes.

“Hillary’s a good money manager, and she’s good at finding ways to get the most out of our money,” she noted.

“I’m not going to walk away from an opportunity we’ve been waiting to have for 50 years.”

North Ward Alderman Jim Ashley was absent from the meeting due to a work-related injury, so only three aldermen were present.

“Let’s see what the county boys can do,” Wehmer said.

“Let’s see if they will work with us. See if they are willing to maybe lower that split or trust that we’ll pledge money if it’s available. This project is years away, even if the funding from the U.S. Senate comes through.”

When Whitehurst and the two commissioners returned, they were asked about the project’s timeline if grant approval was received.

“We’re looking to get the grant in tomorrow (Wednesday, May 26), because the deadline’s a quick one and we want to get it in the hopper quick,” Whitehurst explained. “In terms of approval being given, I think it’s fair to say that news would be received by the end of the year.”

“And after that, what kind of time schedule are we looking at, Stan?” Wehmer asked.

“Probably 1-1/2 years of design, there’s a bid process ... likely construction in 2024,” he responded.

“And what kind of schedule in terms of giving money?” Wehmer questioned.

“I would say early in 2022,” he said. “It could be sooner or later than that.”

A deal is reached

“There is no way we can put in any money for this in our 2021-22 budget,” Gintz said. “Dan, I’m not a magician. I can’t make money appear. And we have nothing to spare for something like this in the upcoming budget.”

“I know, Hillary, but the county does,” Wehmer said.

“And?” Gintz asked.

“Perhaps the county can cover our $400,000, at least in the short term,” he said. “I suppose what I’m suggesting is that we commit to being a partner to this. We want it. This is in the city’s best interest.”

“But no money commitment?” Wallace asked.

“I think we do commit,” Wehmer said. “We commit that we are the county’s partner. However, we can’t commit to a hard amount, a budgeted amount. At least not now. For now, the county covers the match. In the future, if we can, then we cover our $400,000.

“Stan? Paul? Randy? Will that work? We’re with you. I think all of us agree to that. But we can’t commit money we don’t have at the present time.”

After conferring briefly, Ipock, Owens and Whitehurst said that commitment would work.

“We just want to get our name in the hat to compete for the funding for this project,” Owens said.

“I guess the question is, are you in this with us?”

“Yes, I think so,” Wehmer answered. Crisp shook her head in agreement.

“Fifteen minutes ago, I wasn’t,” Wallace said. “But if we are doing it this way, I’m a yes.”

“This is a shelf-ready project,” Owens said. “If we do get approval, then I think the timeline that Stan gave you earlier is a reality.”

“Again, we likely won’t know until late in the year if we are approved,” Whitehurst concluded.

“You’ve got a partner with the city,” Wehmer said. “We’re with you, and we appreciate you. In a way, this is like loaning a friend some money when his wallet is empty. Ours is empty right now with our infrastructure issues. But things will get better. When they do, the city of Seymour will honor its share for an overpass if this grant is approved.”

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