Pott Co. shows interest in Marlatt link, bridge projects

By The Mercury

Two major projects popped back onto the Pottawatomie County radar Monday morning — a connecting link to Marlatt Avenue in Riley County and replacement of the Belvue Bridge over the Kansas River.

Both projects have been on the back burner for several months, but received renewed attention Monday when Buck Driggs of SMH Consultants visited the County Commission.

Driggs was involved in the U.S. Highway 24 Corridor Plan and has done preliminary work on the so-called Marlatt Avenue connector, a proposed roadway which would parallel U.S. 24 to the north and connect with Marlatt Ave. north of Manhattan via a bridge over the Blue River.

“U.S. 24 is near capacity now,” Driggs told commissioners. “If we can show a benefit of taking some of that traffic off and putting it onto a Marlatt connection, it would save KDOT (Kansas Department of Transportation) money in the long run (by precluding the need to widen or improve intersections of U.S. 24 east of Manhattan).”

The Marlatt connection would give motorists the option of exiting U.S. 24 — perhaps as far east as Flush Road — and traveling a proposed parallel roadway about 1.5 miles to the north which would connect directly with Marlatt Ave. The purpose of the proposal is to ease congestion along U.S. 24 and McCall Rd. in southwest Pottawatomie County.

Driggs said KDOT officials indicated recently that there is no state funding available now to study the project, but stakeholders should be prepared with cost figures when the next round of funding is considered later this year.

“The state is very interested in the Pottawatomie County side, but not too much on the Riley County side (of the proposal). The cost/benefit isn’t there,” Driggs said, noting that involvement from local entities is important — Pottawatomie and Riley counties, the city of Manhattan, K-State, NBAF and the Flint Hills Regional Council.

“What this does is it gets it on KDOT’s radar,” Driggs told commissioners.

“I’ve said for 20 years there needs to be another access up there,” Commissioner Stan Hartwich said. “With all the growth, Highway 24 is overwhelmed sometimes. I think we need to move forward with it.”

Commissioners asked Driggs to collaborate with Robert Reece, county administrator, on a study proposal for KDOT, as well as cost figures for replacing the Belvue Bridge over the Kansas River.

“We’ve got another bridge over there that’s ready to fall down and we’ve got one over there that’s not even built,” Commissioner Pat Weixelman said of the two projects. “If we’re going to concentrate on the one over at Manhattan, let’s concentrate on the one over at Belvue. Let’s give them both some attention.”

Weixelman said he crossed the bridge south of Belvue recently and it didn’t appear to be in good shape.

“If we had to close that bridge today, it would be three years before we could get it back up,” said Leu Lowrey, public works director, who estimated the cost of replacing the bridge at $10 million.

If there are no state or federal funds available for the bridge, Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties would have to share the cost, Lowrey said.

The two counties could negotiate a cost-share agreement, but lacking an agreement, state guidelines dictate that the cost be based on total property valuation. Using that formula, Pott County would have to fund as much as $8.5 million of a $10 million project, Lowrey said.

The Belvue Bridge has a traffic count of about 450 to 500 vehicles per day, much of it agriculture-related.

In other business Monday, the commission:

• Approved a contract with SMH Consultants for inspection services for the new Pott County Justice Center. The contract specifies full-time inspection services not to exceed 480 calendar days at a cost of $80,000.

• Heard a request from Jim Travis of Travis Bail Bonds, St. George, to install temporary lighting at the current jail. With the parking lot light removed for construction of the new justice center, late-night visitors to the jail are in the dark, he said.

• Authorized Tim Eisenbarth, Noxious Weed director, to seek a replacement for his office manager who recently gave two-week notice of resignation.

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