Too many bridges to cross

County to consider bonds to repair aging structures

Wayne White
| Managing Editor

LYNDON—Osage County already has an investment it stands to lose if a railroad is rebuilt on the old rail bed north of Overbrook, county commissioners were told Monday.

At last week’s commission meeting, commissioners met with members of the Kanza Rails Trails Conservancy to discuss two aging bridges in the eastern part of the county on the rail-banked right-of-way controlled by the trails group.

A concern discussed at that meeting was that if the county took over ownership of the bridges and repaired or replaced them, that investment could be jeopardized if the railroad was rebuilt in that area. Commissioners expressed reluctance to invest in such a project without assurance the bridges would never be removed.

The rail banking system allows the old railroad rights-of-way to be developed as hiking and biking trails while they are unused by the railroad and until the railroad is rebuilt.

Commissioners had previously discussed the condition of the bridges on 221st Street and 229th Street, both of which cross a small creek in the conservancy’s right-of-way along the rail-banked Union Pacific Railroad line. One bridge is on a county road; the other is on a Junction Township road. A recent inspection indicated the bridges were deteriorating but not deemed structurally deficient.

Last week, conservancy members said the group did not have funds available to rebuild the bridges, but offered to cooperate by transferring ownership or easements to the county.

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County

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Monday, commissioners again heard from local rails-to-trails opponent Jim Foster, Overbrook, who said the county was already in the position to lose a reconstructed bridge if the railroad was rebuilt. Foster pointed to a bridge in northern Osage County on Shawnee Heights Road, over Camp Creek. The bridge is not on railroad right-of-way, but part of the bridge’s fill is, it was noted, and could be in the path of a reconstructed railroad.

“Now you know that if the train comes back, the county stands to lose a multi-million dollar bridge,” Foster said.

Foster said he was seeking access to documentation of any agreement between the county and the railroad regarding reconstruction of the bridge. He said he wished to determine if the railroad had relinquished right-of-way during the project, and if so, the railroad’s authority to rail bank that section of the line would also have been relinquished.

Commissioners indicated they were unaware of any agreement with the railroad, but they were willing to investigate.

“We’ll have to have Glen (Tyson, county road and bridge supervisor) look it up and see if there was an agreement,” Osage County Commissioner Ken Kuykendall said.

Tyson arrived later at the meeting with blueprints of the Camp Creek bridge project. He said he knew of no agreement regarding the railroad’s right-of-way, but the drawings showed an eight-foot walking path had been included in the bridge plans.

Commissioners also discussed the 221st Street and 229th Street bridges with Foster, who said the commission had discussed those same bridges eight years ago, and the minutes of that meeting reflected an identical conversation as last week’s.

“Eight years ago they were talked about and the same things were said,” Foster said. “In another eight years they could fall into the creek.”

“Both of those bridges have passed the engineer’s inspections,” Kuykendall noted.

Foster said the bridges had “actually gotten better by doing nothing,” because the recent inspections indicated they were in better condition than they were eight years ago.

Osage County Commissioner Carl Meyer said the bridges had been previously inspected by the state, and not by the county’s engineers.

“We included them in our inspections in the last years to see what’s wrong with them,” Meyer said.

Commissioners also discussed the bridges with Bob Cook, of Cook, Flatt & Strobel, the county’s bridge engineers. Answering the commissioners’ inquiry about the possibility of moving a creek channel, as suggested by trail conservancy members last week, Cook said it was an unlikely solution to the problem, because the state would likely not allow it.

“It’s kind of tough to move a creek,” Cook said.

Cook suggested a solution to the bridge dilemma.

“If the bridge gets bad enough, I’d just close the road,” he said.

But the bridges are not in a bad enough condition to close the road yet, Cook said.

“They’re not the best bridges in the county, but they’re not the worst,” he said.

During Monday’s meeting, commissioners also considered Cook’s report of recently completed inspections of the county’s bridges. He reported that of 240 bridges inspected in the county, 31 would qualify for federal aid for bridge improvement projects.

“If we had $6 million, we could spend it awful fast,” Kuykendall said.

Cook said 22 bridges were identified as needing attention. If federal funding was used, the county would be responsible for 20 percent of the costs, he said.

With Kuykendall’s inquiry, it was noted the county is still paying two 1996 bonds issued for bridges. One bond expires this year and has $350,000 remaining to be paid; the other expires in 2012 and $170,000 is still owed.

“With the bridges we’ve got in Osage County, we’re foolish if we don’t continue with bridge bonds,” Meyer said. “We better pursue that.”

Osage County Commissioner Mike Pruitt suggested that 15 bridges be selected for repair or replacement through a bridge bond. With the other commissioners’ agreement, Cook is to develop a list of suggested bridges to be repaired and the commissioners are to investigate the possibility of letting voters decide at a future election if a bond should be issued.

In other business, the commissioners:

o agreed to purchase a McCormick tractor for the road and bridge department from Sloop Sales and Hook’s Repair in the amount of $41,773. County counselor Delton Gilliland is to solicit bids from local banks for lease purchase rates for the equipment.

o hired Amanda Spooner as the daycare surveyor for the health department at $12 per hour, and accepted the resignation of Nancy Chase as daycare surveyor. Also hired was Albert Green, who will work part-time at the recycling center, at $9.92 per hour.

o approved assigning Sam Ralston as a school resource officer at Santa Fe Trail High School and sending him to training at Louisville, Ky.

o approved purchasing a computer for the county clerk’s office from Manatron for $1,672.

o approved the county clerk applying for a grant through the Help America Vote Act for 20 voting booths and 10 electronic poll books. The program provides 90 percent funding to assist counties with the purchase of voting equipment. Osage County’s application represents $29,915 in equipment.

o approved contracting Manatron to compile records in the county appraiser’s office to satisfy an open records request by a private company. Commissioners approved expending up to $1,250 for 10 hours of service, with the expense to be passed on to the requestor.