U.S. Markets open in 8 hrs 31 mins

Missouri transportation director to resign

Jordan Shapiro, Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The Missouri Department of Transportation announced Thursday that its director Kevin Keith is taking a medical leave of absence and will leave the department on July 1.

Keith spent more than 25 years working for MoDOT and was the agency's chief engineer before being named director in November 2010. The nature of Keith's medical issue was not disclosed.

"The commission has accepted Kevin's resignation and we are grateful for his long career of dedicated, results-oriented service to MoDOT and the citizens of Missouri," said Highways and Transportation Commission Chairman Joe Carmichael.

Keith inherited a department in turmoil, but Carmichael said Keith played a major role in turning things around.

"The department has been through a complete reorganization and downsizing the last 18 months and Kevin Keith led that effort," Carmichael said, adding that MoDOT has cut its workforce by 19 percent during the reorganization.

Chief engineer David Nichols will serve as interim director until the commission appoints a new director. Carmichael said Nichols will remain the interim director for at least one year as the commission has not yet decided how to proceed with naming a new director. He added that he has "absolute confidence" in Nichols' ability.

Keith was not available for comment Thursday. His resignation comes during a tumultuous time for the future of transportation funding.

The Legislature is considering a sales tax hike to boost funding for Missouri's highway infrastructure. Before lawmakers left the Capitol last week for a weeklong break, the Missouri Senate passed a 1-cent sales tax increase with the revenue dedicated to funding future transportation projects.

That proposal, if approved by the House and Missouri voters, is projected to generate $8 billion over a decade. Keith said in February it would make a difference in funding the state's infrastructure. But its fate is less than certain in a Legislature dominated by Republicans.

The Senate passed the measure last week 24-10, but only 14 of the chamber's 24 Republicans supported the tax increase. Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, voted against the legislation and said lawmakers should work to shrink government and limit taxes.

Carmichael said he doesn't think Keith's resignation will cause any hiccups in passing the legislation from the department's standpoint.

"It is not personality-driven, but driven by the need for developing transportation in the future," he said.

The revenue from the tax plan could help reverse MoDOT's financial struggles. Keith's predecessor, Pete Rahn, had warned in 2006 that the annual highway construction budget would decline in 2010 as bond payments for past projects came due. The decline was delayed because of federal economic stimulus money, but in the last year, Missouri's highway construction funding has fallen from $1.2 billion to less than $700 million.