The controversy of the demolition for a railroad bridge overpass over U.S. Highway 400 stole the attention of the Butler County Commission on Tuesday morning.
In the previous week, the commission had brought up the issue for discussion due to the Kansas Department of Transportation’s request to remove the bridge at their own cost to allow for road improvements to be completed. The debate continued when the issue resurfaced on Tuesday morning.
“I took the liberty to invite a representative from Redbud Rail Trail to come speak with us next week,” began Commissioner Mike Wheeler. “They have a brief PowerPoint to present to the commission. I think we should to hear from the other side before we make a decision on this issue.”
“We did receive an e-mail on the issue,” added County Administrator Will Johnson. “Some people are contesting the demolition. They want KDOT to pay for a replacement of the bridge should it be taken out.”
At the current time, the bridge is barricaded. The bridge, having sat dormant and unused for years, is in need of repairs before it would be opened to the public.
“We’ve got it barricaded so that it will not be open to traffic, but Edward Lincoln from Prairie Travelers indicated that people are using the bridge as part of a walking path,” said Johnson. “Technically people are not allowed to be on that property now because it is not designated for trail use.”
The funding required for the project of rebuilding or repairing the bridge is not an issue the commission was prepared to approve lightly.
“I don’t think anyone has looked at what the cost to replace this bridge will be,” said Public Works Director Darryl Lutz. “It will probably be over a million dollars to build a new bridge over the highway and pretty similar price-wise to build a tunnel below.”
Similar to the previous discussion, the possibility of returning the land to the adjacent landowners was brought into question.
“If we gave the land back to the landowners, which I’m assuming we can, the landowners would have control over it, right?” asked Commissioner Peggy Palmer.
“If we file abandonment of the land, which is required in order to relinquish the ownership of the property, Prairie Trails will be able to file an NITU right behind us to take over the property for their use,” explained Johnson.
“They have done this in trails and abandoned rail properties from Goddard and they will do the same thing here,” added Director of Community Development David Alfaro. “It will be filed with the transportation board.”
Page 2 of 3 - “Going back to the real issue here: Should the bridge be removed or should it not?” asked Johnson.
“The bridge in its current condition is not really certified for pedestrian use,” commented Commissioner Ed Myers. “Whatever regulations define safety are not in place on that bridge right now. We do have a potential liability even though we are taking steps to keep traffic of any kind off the bridge. From what I hear our efforts have not been 100 percent successful and that is a major concern.”
“We have attempted to put barricades up on the crossings,” said Alfaro. “There’s no way we can keep them off 100 percent.”
“One solution for this issue is for Augusta and Andover to take over the land,” added Palmer.
“The county has offered it to them and they have not been in favor of taking it over,” said Johnson. “They’re willing to venture into a partnership with the county, but they don’t want to take it on full on without any plans for it.”
“I propose that we postpone this issue for a couple of weeks,” said Commissioner Jeff Masterson. “I’ve been in favor of removing the bridge because I don’t think it’s suitable as a trail, but I would like to hear the other side of this issue.”
“If we decide to keep the bridge in tact, we would then be responsible for the costs of the trails people to bring the bridge up to regulations,” said Commissioner Dan Woydziak. “Let KDOT take it out at their expense, then come back and apply for funding to replace it with a bridge that will not to be quite as robust.”
“If we do that, we would not have to deal with the deteriorating concrete or the lead paint or any other structural issues,” said Lutz. “There is a lot of liability and cost associated with bringing the bridge up to regulations.”
“I agree with Masterson,” said Palmer. “We should table this issue so that we can hear from these trails people. They’ve done a great job from west of Wichita to Goddard. It would be a great addition to the City of Augusta and Andover. Most of us agree that safety-wise it needs to come down, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any other options down the road that the trail will not happen when they get their options together.”
“We’re allowing for the possibility to go ahead and make a decision next week,” said Johnson. “I’d like to see action next week even if it is just for KDOT’s benefit. The removal of this bridge will not kill the possibility of the trail.”
Page 3 of 3 - The issue was tabled for discussion next week.
The commission also:
• approved an additional budget Allocation Budget Summary and Narrative from Juvenile Intensive Supervision Director Chuck McGuire for an additional $12,100 to be used in the salary line item in the department’s budget.
• received and opened sealed bids for the purchase for two pickups for the Highway Division of the Public Works Department.
• tabled the right of way and temporary easement dedications related to the Fourmile Creek Bridge project south of Andover.
• approved an application to KDOT for federal aid for the planned Dry Creek Bridge replacement project on SW Prairie Creed Road north and east of Andover.
• approved a resolution urging the Kansas Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback to retain the mortgage registration fee and reject any or all legislative proposals abolishing such fee without legislation to replace lost funding.
Kari Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.