Residents argue for shorter detours

By The Mercury

Rural Westmoreland residents believe safety is worth added expense.

About 10 residents appealed to Pottawatomie County Commissioners Monday to take measures to avoid long detours when the Wilson Creek Bridge on Westmoreland Rd. is replaced this spring.

Those options, however, would be expensive, and could boost the cost of the $500,000 project by anywhere from 30 to 50 percent.

The bridge is located on the hard-surfaced Westmoreland Road northwest of Westmoreland. And while the county plans to have designated detours on Highway 16 to Blaine and then south to Westmoreland, many motorists will likely choose a shorter route along Bigalow and Sales Roads, gravel roads which residents say are hazardous even without increased traffic.

“It’s just not a safe alternative in my book,” said Steve Minton, who lives on Sales Road.

“What price do you put on a human life––$50,000…$100,000?” Minton noted that the rural roads have sight distance problems and narrow bridges with no guard rails.

Residents asked commissioners to consider alternatives which would preclude lengthy detours around the bridge project––either a shoefly around the construction area or a temporary traffic light and replace the bridge one lane at a time.

A shoefly built to federal specifications (a mandate since federal funding is involved) could cost up to $250,000, while replacing one lane at a time could add up to 30 percent ($150,000 to $160,000) to the total cost, according to county officials.

“If you’re going to put a shoe fly in there, even if it costs only $100,000, when it’s all said and done you’re going to pull the plug and wash it down the creek,” said Commission Chairman Pat Weixelman. “You might as well flush $100,000 down the creek.”

Weixelman noted that many bridge projects in the state––including two on K-18 in Wabaunsee County––don’t include a shoefly and require lengthy detours.

“This isn’t out of the norm,” he said, suggesting that the money saved could be put to use improving Bigalow Rd.

“If we’re going to spend a hundred grand, let’s put it somewhere when you walk away you’ve got something,” Weixelman said.

If the county chooses not to include the shoefly or stoplight options, safety measures such as stop signs, reduced speeds and dust control would be added along Bigalow and Sales Roads during the construction period, estimated at four months, according to commissioners.

That wasn’t satisfactory for area residents, however.

“I don’t think anybody in this room wants to see tax dollars wasted, but my family and friends that travel that road every day are worth a lot more than $150 or $200,000,” said Dean Altenhofer.

“I would much rather see you spend $150,000 than have my house burn down because the fire department couldn’t get there in time,” said Lindsay Elliott, who lives on Bigalow Rd.

Jim Smith, chief of the Westmoreland/7 Township Fire Department, also expressed a concern about safety of firefighters, EMS and law enforcement personnel who might have to use the gravels roads on emergency calls.

Prior to the discussion, Bruce Brazzle, county fire supervisor, provided statistics for emergency calls in an 18-square-mile area southeast of Fostoria which would be impacted by the project.

In the last five years, Brazzle said, the average number of emergency responses in the area included three medical, one grass fire, and less than one structure fire or vehicle accident per year.

Bids for the bridge replacement are scheduled to be let March 22, with construction to start around June 1.

Commissioners said they will make their decision soon on the shoefly or stoplight options for the project.

“There was nothing said today that we haven’t already discussed,” said Commissioner Stan Hartwich. “No matter what we do it’s not going to please everybody. We’ll discuss it and try to do what’s best for everybody involved, including the taxpayers.”

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