Counties commit to bridge repair

By The Mercury

Commissioners from two counties committed verbally Monday to make needed repairs to keep the Belvue Bridge open, but stopped short of committing to replace the entire structure if a newly proposed option proves unfeasible.

That new option — a polyester concrete overlay — was presented by Robert Nielsen, regional manager for Kwikbond Polymers, who said the bridge rehabilitation and preservation process could extend the life of the bridge deck by up to 30 years at a fraction of the cost of traditional repair methods or total replacement.

Nielsen was brought in from Phoenix, Ariz., by Bob Awerkamp, owner of The Onyx Collection, Belvue, to propose an alternative to repairing the deck of the aging span at an estimated cost of $4.5 million, or replacing the entire structure for about $13 million.

Nielsen said his company is using the bridge rehabilitation process throughout the country, including 30 to 40 bridges annually in California, and on high-traffic bridges in the northeast. He estimated the total cost of rehabilitating the Belvue Bridge at $1 million.

“We’ve overlayed bridges a lot worse than your bridge, and we’ve had a good success rate,” Nielsen told commissioners from Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties, as well as about 40 residents in attendance, mostly from Wabaunsee County.

The Kwikbond process includes milling off the deteriorated surface of a bridge deck and “flood coating” it with the polyester material, which penetrates the sub-surface and forms an impermeable bond which actually strengthens the structure, Nielsen said.

Another benefit of the process, he said, is that the material cures rapidly, allowing traffic to resume within two to four hours after treatment. The milling and rehab process could be done one lane at a time, allowing the bridge to remain open continually.

The entire process could be completed in two weeks, Nielsen said.

“We might get a 25- or 30-year bridge out of this product for a million dollars. If that’s the case, let’s sign up right now,” said Pat Weixelman, Pott County commissioner.

However, Moni El-Aasar, an engineer with BG Consultants, cautioned that the polymer is only as good as the material it bonds to, and tests would have to be conducted to determine if the Belvue Bridge is a good candidate for the process.

If the Kwikbond option is not feasible, residents of the area seemed to favor total replacement of the bridge rather than replacement of the deck.

“If you can patch it for a million bucks, I’m 100 percent for you,” said one Wabaunsee County resident. “We’ll give you an ‘attaboy’ and say, ‘Get after it.’”

Otherwise, he said, the counties would be wise to take advantage of current low interest rates and finance a new bridge with a 75-year lifespan rather than the 25-year life of deck replacement options. Most residents in attendance agreed.

A new bridge could be erected adjacent to the current structure, allowing continued access across the river, while a traditional deck replacement would require closing the bridge for nearly a year.

The Belvue Bridge was built in 1955, spanning the Kansas River and connecting Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties southeast of Belvue.

“I want the bridge,” said Wabaunsee County Commissioner Jim Suber, whose third district includes the area at the south end of the bridge. “I think we need it for the economy of both of our counties. It’s just a good thing for the long-range viability of both of our counties.”

Options for either repair or replacement of the bridge will be a financial challenge for both counties, with Pott County bearing 86 percent of the cost, based on assessed valuation.

“The cost of this thing has a bearing on both counties,” said Pott County Commission Chairman Gary Yenzer. “Can we afford it? Pott County has more than 1,300 bridges to maintain. This is going to be a big chunk on either one of us.”

Commissioners from both counties agreed to investigate the Kwikbond option further and committed to at least repair of the existing deck if the Kwikbond option is unfeasible. They remained noncommittal, however, to the option of building an entirely new structure.

“I think as the old saying goes,” said Wabaunsee County Commissioner Ervan Stuewe, “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

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