If Reno County Commissioners wish to replace the 43rd Avenue bridge over the Union Pacific railroad west of Prairie Hills Middle school, the county should issue bonds at the same time to repair three other large bridges in the county that need work, the county’s public works director is suggesting.
Because other bonds payments will be dropping off the county’s debt list in the next four years, the county should be able to finance the additional bridges without increasing county property taxes from current levels, Public Works Director Dave McComb said a review of county indebtedness shows.
Bonding all the projects will also allow the county to continue the pace of its current bridge replacement program, without having to stop replacing bridges while sufficient money accumulates to tackle the major projects.
The issue is on Tuesday's Reno County Commission agenda for discussion. The board meets at 9 a.m. in the Commission Chambers at the Courthouse.
The county began discussing replacing the 43rd Avenue bridge, located between Lucille Road and Old K-61, in June after state inspectors mandated lowering the weight limit on the massive timber bridge to a maximum 3 tons.
The lower weight limit prohibits school buses from crossing it, forcing USD 313 to alter at least 15 bus routes. Not having the bridge is also creating traffic concerns for commuters, residents and school patrons in the neighborhood south of the road.
Officials estimated the cost of replacing the 74-year-old bridge, which is on a township road – and thus, under the county’s bridge policy, would not normally be replaced – at $1.672 million.
“It’s a very large and expensive project and very difficult to fund through our bridge program,” McComb said. “But if we’re going to build it outside of the bridge fund, we have to look at the possibility of selling bonds.”
“If we’re selling bonds, it’s only reasonable to look at more than just one (bridge.) The idea was to try to identify large bridges that need replaced, and that would be very difficult to fund through the Special Bridge Fund, and put them on this bond.”
Other bridges McComb is proposing the county bond include:
-- The Nickerson Road bridge a half mile south of Nickerson, crossing the Arkansas River. The 505-foot haunched bridge is made of welded steel girder plates that are joined with “pin and hanger” assemblies at expansion joints. This bridge, built in 1965, would be replaced at an estimated cost, including engineering, of $2.589 million.
“It’s in pretty bad shape,” McComb said. “It just needs to be replaced before it gets any worse.”
-- The Nickerson Boulevard bridge across the Cow Creek diversion canal. This 602-foot steel beam bridge, built in 1953, would be repaired, much like the work on the Frank Hart Bridge, with new expansion joints and concrete repair work, McComb said. The estimated repair cost, including engineering, is $1.25 million.
-- The Wilson Road bridge that is at the entrance to Willowbrook. This 232-foot reinforced concrete haunch slab bridge would also be a rehabilitation project. The challenge is, the 35-year-old bridge is the only way in and out of the town of about 100 people. Its estimated repair cost is $899,000.
All three bridges are “on our radar,” McComb said, and will need to be scheduled for repair sooner than later.
“But it would take quite a while to save the money to build them,” he said. “Other bridges need to be done at the same time that are not nearly as expensive. But if we’re saving money, we’re not building the others.”
McComb’s goal is to replace at least five timber bridges a year, so tying up some $6.4 million would set the program back several years.
The plan, if the commission approves using bonds, is to do engineering and design for the projects next year, then build them in 2019 and 2020.
“We’ll design all the bridges concurrently, and we plan to bid them at the same time,” he said. “Depending on contractors, if they would all be constructed at the same time will depend on if its four separate contracts or one, and we haven’t made that decision. But the 43rd Avenue bridge has to be first.”
“We’re looking at 18 to 24 months for design and 12 to 24 months for construction,” McComb said. “I’m not sure what the timing will be for financing. Usually, we issue them (bonds) after construction is done, but here we’ll have three to four projects going on at the same time. That’s something Gary (County Administrator Gary Meagher) and bond counsel will determine.”