Tecumseh curves improvement subject of MoDOT meeting
Representatives of the Missouri Department of Transportation fielded questions and listened to residents’ comments at an Aug. 6 meeting at Gainesville High School to present the preliminary plans for improving the Highway 160 curves at Tecumseh.
Several property owners along the 1-mile stretch of highway will be impacted by MoDOT plans, but only three parcels of land have structures that must be removed for the widened right of way, if the current proposal goes forward.
Joe and Diane Easterday, owners of Rocky Top Resort, one of the impacted parcels, listened carefully as the MoDOT personnel described the future project.
“They’re getting the political part of it out of the way,” Easterday told the Times Monday. “I think they already have their minds made up. They’ve already got too much money tied up in it now to make any big changes.”
Under MoDOT’s current plans, the Easterdays’ Rocky Top Resort, at the top of the curves, will lose all five of the small, native- rock cabins on the south edge of the property as well as a house and a shed. At last week’s meeting, the Easterdays told the MoDOT officials they already have reservations for guests to stay in those cabins in 2020.
Under the current plan, it’s expected that bids will be let in May 2020, and if a bid is accepted by the Missouri Highway Commission at its June 2020 meeting, construction could begin in July 2020 with completion expected by November 2021.
“The MoDOT people said they will appraise everything and use comparable sales to come up with an offer. But where are you gonna go around here to get comps for 1948 vintage cabins? Maybe in Branson – I’d love to have them do that, but I can’t see them doing it,” Easterday said.
In last week’s Times, Easterday said the roadwork’s impact won’t cause him to go out of business. He owns enough land to rebuild elsewhere on the property, “but I don’t want to go into debt,” he said Monday. “I have a figure in my mind, and we’ll see how close they get to that.”
If MoDOT’s offer to buy an impacted property isn’t accepted by the landowner, the issue goes to mediation and finally, if the two sides can’t agree on a price during mediation, the case goes to a judge who presides over the process of “eminent domain.” The judge appoints three commissioners who must own land and reside in the county where the property is located. The commissioners review the information and set a fair market value. If that value is still contested, the case goes before a jury.
According to county records, the two other parcels of land where structures will have to be removed are owned by Judy Ann Barton of West Plains, who owns property at the bottom of the curves, including a former restaurant and a house. In between the Barton property and Rocky Top Resort is the third tract, where a house must be demolished or moved. That land is owned by David and Kathy Brundage of Harrisonville, according to records in the county assessor and collector offices. Barton and the Brundages did not attend last week’s meeting.
Many of those attending the meeting weren’t property owners but were area residents who have to drive that section of Highway 160 frequently. Some were interested to see that MoDOT won’t be straightening the curves but widening and “realigning” them and adding shoulders to make them easier to negotiate.
One of those residents, Tim Reiner, said he thought the proposed improvements will make the roadway “a lot better – but at the same time, there are still a lot of safety issues, because people will increase their speed going up and down the hill” and that speed might lead to crashes, he said, adding that he had gone off one of the curves himself a few years ago.
“It was my fault,” Reiner said. “I got too close to the edge.”
Ironically, the morning after the MoDOT meeting, another car went off the Tecumseh curves. Accord-ing to this week’s Ozark County Sheriff’s Report (see the Aug. 7 calls, page 9), the vehicle owner called the sheriff’s office and said an ambulance wasn’t needed. Tecumseh Volunteer Fire Department and the Missouri State Highway Patrol responded.