JEFFERSON CITY - The state Transportation Department promoted one of its top officials to the director's office on Thursday. Kevin Keith, who has been MoDOT's interim director since April, takes the top job at a time when the department will have its construction budget cut by more than half.
A decline in gas tax revenue, less federal money and no more bond funding has MoDOT looking to cut costs. However, Keith promised the department would complete all road and bridge projects scheduled for the next five years.
"We're not broke -- we still have resources to work with," Keith said at a news conference. "The trick is going to be, how do we get the most bang out of the resources we have?"
The department's construction budget will fall from $1.3 billion to $500 million annually over the next five years, meaning MoDOT will have "barely enough" money to continue to maintain the current infrastructure, Keith said.
"We have gone from being the largest construction program in state history to one where we must focus solely on maintaining the transportation system that we have," said Rudy Farber, chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, which chose Keith.
To cut costs, Keith said MoDOT has already reduced mowing grass along highways and sign replacements. It will cut back on snow removal this winter, although that doesn't mean the roads will be less safe, he said.
"When it snows that day, there's nothing more important MoDOT does than remove snow," he said. "But the next day I might as well have piled whatever money we spent up and set fire to it because it builds nothing long term."
At a House Transportation Committee meeting Thursday, some lawmakers said they were worried that Missourians would not have a positive reaction to the service cuts.
Keith is giving up his job as chief engineer, which he's held for nine years. He became interim director when former director Pete Rahn resigned to take a job with Kansas City-based engineering firm HNTB.
Keith said his management style will be different than Rahn's.
"I'm fairly direct. And that's probably even an understatement," Keith said. "Pete was a master at marketing. My forte has been I'm a master at producing results, I get things done. But one of the things he's taught me is it's not just good enough to do it, you've got to talk about it."
Farber said Gov. Jay Nixon played an advisory role in the selection, interviewing the three finalists.
At his resignation announcement in March, Rahn said the state should have a sales tax dedicated to transportation and create toll roads to increase revenue. Keith wouldn't say whether he supported either, but did say increasing the state's gas tax is not a good option.
"I think we probably need to look really hard at diversifying the way we fund transportation in this country," Keith said, "which probably means getting off as much dependence as we have on the fuel tax."