Growth appears to be inevitable in Webster County, and now is the time to plan for it, according to the Board of Commissioners.
That is why the county has contracted with Crawford, Murphy & Tilly (CMT), an infrastructure consultancy firm that readers may recognize from its work with the City of Marshfield on planning for the new Interstate 44 interchange and Route 66 roadside park.
For Webster County, CMT will be spearheading a different project: a long-range study of the 22-mile-long U.S. 60 corridor within the county’s borders.
The county is planning four separate sets of three listening sessions in communities across the expanse of the highway. The first meeting will be held in Rogersville from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 11, at the First Baptist Church gym, 101 W. Mill St., Rogersville, and this session is intended for Rogersville-area input only. Another meeting will be held in Fordland from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on June 13 in the Fordland City Hall, 296 Burks St., Fordland, to hear Fordland-area concerns. Other sessions will be held in Diggins on June 18 and Seymour on June 25 at times and places to be announced. Each of these four municipalities will have a set of three input sessions over the course of the study.
At these meetings, the public will be invited to weigh in with thoughts about the future of U.S. 60 with consideration of the county’s growth projections.
The county’s effort is happening with the cooperation of the Missouri Department of Transportation, Burlington Northern Railroad and the Southwest Missouri Council of Governments.
"The main thing is that we get out ahead of the change that's coming," explained Stan Whitehurst, the Webster County Clerk. "We recognize that we need some long-range planning."
Commission President Paul Ipock noted that the western end of U.S. 60 in Webster County, the Rogersville area, is growing very rapidly already. The area also has high agricultural usage, and the county has some 40 railroad crossings alongside the route.
“The question is how can we all work together to make it a safer place?” he asked.
Commissioner Randy Owens said that it is also prudent to have a plan in case grant money comes available in the future, because without a plan, “You’re dead in the water,” he said.
Ipock said that the commissioners want a plan for the future. The 2018 population of Webster County was 39,109, he said, but by 2030, the population is projected to be 53,282. By contrast, when he and Whitehurst took office in 1999, the population was less than 30,000.
These days U.S. 60 has more traffic volume and larger trucks on it than when the route was established (around the late 1960s, by Ipock’s recollection).
Steve Prange of CMT emphasized that there is no money for improvements at present, but that money is available for highway and railroad safety improvements, especially at the federal level. Having a plan puts the county in line for future funding.
"For years there has been no master plan for the U.S. Highway 60 corridor from Rogersville to the east," he said. "They haven’t had a plan to convert that to a freeway or to make intersection improvements or anything. They've just been doing things as money was available or as safety concerns dictated."
Added Prange, "We want to have a plan in place so that we can compete for money to do safety and capacity improvements along 60. It starts with a plan, so they’ve hired me to do a plan for them."
Planning for the future of the route will help to make the road safer while encouraging economic development, Commissioner Ipock said. For those unable to attend the listening sessions, a survey will be available at city hall and online at
www.webstercountymo.gov after the meeting. Those interested in the topic are encouraged to take
the survey that is included on the webpage by June 28.