Commissioners from Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties agreed Monday to seek engineering proposals to study options to improve the Belvue Bridge.
The Pott County Commission, however, was surprised to learn that Wabaunsee County is preparing to apply for a federal Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant to replace the structure which spans the Kansas River, connecting the two counties just east of Belvue.
“It’s not something we’ve done before, but we’re going to give it a go,” said Wabaunsee County Attorney Tim Liesman via ZOOM teleconference.
Liesman said commissioners have decided to apply for the grant in-house by updating a 2017 cost/benefit study of the bridge conducted by Greg Newmark, a K-State assistant professor in regional and community planning.
BUILD grants provide up to $25 million for specific infrastructure projects, and Wabaunsee County plans to seek either 90% or 100% of the estimated cost of $15.3 million to replace the current bridge, Liesman said.
“If we get a 90% grant and the counties have to fund 10%, we can decide then how to share the cost,” Liesman said. “I think that would be a pretty good problem to have.”
Even with the pending grant application, a majority of the commissioners from both sides of the river agreed to move forward with the engineering study at an estimated cost of between $50,000 and $75,000.
Prepared by Pott County Public Works Director Peter Clark, the request for qualifications (RFQ) seeks structural engineering services to “evaluate the potential for the existing bridge structure to be rehabilitated and/or improved to be able to carry the maximum possible live load up to legal commercial loads.”
The RFQ further seeks acceptable options for “strengthening the superstructure, making the bridge a one-lane bridge with traffic lights and/or making the bridge deck composite with the superstructure.”
The RFQ also asks for cost estimates for any options proposed.
While all three Wabaunsee County Commissioners ultimately agreed to the engineering study, Commissioner Jim Suber, whose district includes the bridge, was at first skeptical.
“I think the thing’s been studied to death,” Suber said. It’s a “decrepit old bridge and it’s just no good any more.
“We need a bridge along the lines of the new bridge at Willard,” Suber went on. “That’ll hold anything you put on it. We need a modern bridge across the river to connect the counties and the region.”
Pott County Commissioners thought applying for the BUILD grant was a good idea, and two of the three voted in favor of the engineering study, with Commission Chair Dee McKee abstaining.
McKee didn’t offer a reason for her abstention, but she has said recently she would not support the Belvue Bridge without support of a new bridge over the Blue River in the southwest portion of the county.
Once the study was agreed to, a brief ZOOM bidding war ensued to determine cost-share.
“How about 50/50,” said Pott County Commissioner Greg Riat, adding, “but I’m not sure that’s going to go over very good.”
Wabaunsee County Commissioners countered with the state’s suggested formula of using county valuations to determine shared costs of projects. In this instance, the cost-share would be about 83 to 17 percent, with Pott County bearing the larger share of the load.
“How about 80/20?” McKee said. “Most of our people don’t even know that bridge exists.”
“We’ll take 83/17! How’s that?” Suber barked.
When the cost-share was settled, Pott County Commissioner Pat Weixelman said a short-term patching fix was needed to keep the bridge deck viable until a more permanent solution is reached.
“We have to have a temporary game plan soon or we’re going to have to shut it down,” Weixelman said. “I’d like you guys to kick that around the next couple of weeks.”
He also suggested installing cameras to identify those who violate weight limits on the bridge.
“It’s still being abused,” he said. “There’s no reason putting another nickel into it if it’s just going to get beat up.”
In other business Monday, the commission:
• Approved an estimate of $27,000 from StoneWater Hardscape & Irrigation to install irrigation and landscape around the new Blue Township EMS Station on Green Valley Road.
The action also eliminates $5,800 for seeding included in the original building cost by Schultz Construction.
County employees said they would handle the installation of flagpoles at the facility.
• Held public hearings and adopted resolutions forming benefit districts to pay for streets, water and sanitary sewer improvements for Heritage Hills Subdivision, Unit 2.
Total cost of the improvements is estimated at $1.65 million, or $65,419 for each of the 24 lots over a 20-year period.
• Held a public hearing and approved paving interior roads in the Heritage Heights Subdivision just west of Wamego south of Highway 24.
Total cost of the project is $333,730 or $15,169 per lot over 10 years.
• Approved a three-percent increase in the current $11,253 contract of Vic Redding to mow 11 county cemeteries 13 times this season.
Although Redding didn’t request the increase, Noxious Weed Director Tim Eisenbarth recommended it, noting the cemeteries are located “from one end of the county to the other. It’s a good contract. It always has been,” Eisenbarth said.
Weixelman agreed. “Vic’s been doing this for as long as I can remember and I’ve never heard one complaint,” he said.
• Approved the final plat of Heritage Hills Subdivision, as presented by Gregg Webster, zoning administrator.