Following a notification to the Butler County Commission from the Kansas Department of Transportaion, a discussion regarding the possible removal of an unused bridge over Highway 400 was initiated during the meeting on Tuesday morning.
"The removal of the bridge has become a huge priority for KDOT," began County Administrator Will Johnson. "They have requested to remove the railroad bridge over Highway 400 at their cost so they can place a six-inch overlay on the road."
The project, which has been mentioned previously to the commission, has failed to reach a final decision.
"Originally Butler County developed an agreement with KDOT that all four facilities would sign (Augusta, Andover, the county and KDOT). It would have put in legal terms exactly what was going to happen in that area, but Andover refused to sign the agreement. The support for the issue fell apart soon after. Our main concern about the project was the possibility of a trail being developed in that area. The cost that would be associated with building a new pedestrian bridge would be out of our budget."
"When the bridge is gone, it's gone and if we want to put it back, we’ll have to be prepared to pay 100 percent of the cost because KDOT will not give you a dime," added Commissioner Dan Woydziak.
The most recent agreement sent from KDOT tells of a possibility of help fund a new pedestrian bridge once it is removed.
"I'll be honest, I don’t think we want to hold up a major road project for KDOT over a potential trail," explained Johnson. "The bridge can be removed and it won’t change anything regarding a potential trail. KDOT's agreement states if the bridge cannot be removed, they will do a slight milling on the road so that it will not change the height restriction.
“Nobody uses this bridge right now because it is not structurally sound. Their agreement also gives an indication of the possibility of aid in funding a new pedestrian bridge, but I'm not hopeful that it will be fulfilled."
The bridge, which has not been used for quite some time, has fallen into disrepair.
"There have been a series of height clips from trucks and vehicles that have not been aware of the height restriction with the bridge," explained Public Works Director Darryl Lutz. "The road itself underneath the bridge has a fairly large dip in it.
“During periods of heavy rain, water collects in that dip and has even frozen in the recent cold temperatures. This has caused the road to also come into some disrepair. It would benefit the highway itself to do some repair work on this roadway."
Page 2 of 2 - While there are certain benefits to the bridge removal and the roadway repair, several area groups are opposing the project.
"Those involved directly with the Rails to Trails program are concerned," began Johnson. "Ideally they would like to keep the bridge where it is now and convert it into a pedestrian crossing. However, the cost of repairing the bridge and converting it into a pedestrian crossing would be so significant that I don't think the county would even consider it a priority at this point in time."
"I think allowing the removal of the bridge is acceptable at this point," said Commissioner Jeff Masterson.
"I think the city of Andover doesn’t want to see the bridge removed because they’re concerned that it will just end the trail project in that area," added Johnson. "There are many other avenues that they can take to complete their trail projects, but I'm not sure if this is the right one."
"Augusta is not ready to move forward with this project," said Augusta City Manager Gabe Gonzalez. "There is a big issue of ongoing maintenance with a trail for lighting, infrastructure and other elements of this kind of project. We have not evaluated the benefits or the ongoing costs of maintenance for a trail of this size.
“I think we are in the green to go ahead with the removal. We believe the removal of the bridge at this time would be in the best interest of the county and the citizens of Augusta.
“The bottom line is trying to secure money for the bridge is the least of our concerns right now. We are supportive of the removal of the bridge."
Johnson continued, "In the economic times we’re in right now, obviously a trail is not a high priority budget wise. I definitely can’t speak highly enough on the project KDOT is proposing and the removal of the height restriction on US 400. The removal of the bridge does not kill the trail concept. The corridor is still preserved.
“Even if you kept the bridge in place and tried to utilize it, it would cost the county exponentially to bring the bridge up to safety regulations.
“I don’t think a bridge can trump a major interstate highway," Johnson said.
The project was then tabled for further discussion at a later date and no action was taken.
Kari Adams can be reached at email@example.com.