The Riley County Commission Chambers filled up towards the end of the board’s meeting with various farmers and other residents of the more rural north half of the county Monday morning.
They were there to hear more about the deteriorating Fancy Creek Bridge on Fancy Creek Road. It’s a bridge important to residents in the area — especially for farmers who have land on either side of the creek. But the condition of it has fallen to where its weight limit was downgraded from 12 tons to eight tons recently. That’s enough of a change that keeps emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire trucks off it.
In December, commissioners agreed to close the bridge and construct a new one at the cost of nearly $1 million. A “shoofly” bridge — or a detour bridge — near the existing structure would likely add at least another $500,000 to the cost of the project. Commissioners said that wasn’t an option.
While county public works director Leon Hobson and Nathan Berman of engineering firm Bartlett & West presented a preliminary detour route during the construction of the new bridge — slated to take anywhere from six to eight months to complete — the frustration in the chamber was evident.
While there wasn’t anyone in the room who didn’t agree a new bridge is needed, many residents in the area complained of the added time the detour would add to their traveling in the area, since the detour would likely loop travelers at least an extra five miles around the area. Others complained that the roads in the area the detour would use are too small and not ready for the extra traffic, although Hobson affirmed residents the county would do its part to help maintain those township roads during the bridge replacement.
Another resident took a moment to blame the construction of the Tuttle Creek Dam over 50 years ago as the culprit for the dire situation with the bridge, and the way it changed the structure of communities in the northern part of the county, making the area and its infrastructure an afterthought until things got too bad to be ignored any longer.
The atmosphere especially got testy when a property tax increase for those living near the bridge was suggested by the commission to pay for a shoofly to cut travel time for those residents.
“As much as I hate to close the bridge, and as much I realize it will be a lot of extra trouble for a lot of people, I don’t think we can afford the extra costs (of a shoofly bridge),” commission chairman Ben Wilson said.
Commissioner Robert Boyd told the crowd there were “no easy solutions” and that more bridges are also in need of significant repairs or replacement in the county. He said he’d rather see the money saved from opting out of a shoofly to go to those costs.
Commissioner Ron Wells told residents he empathized with their frustration, but also made a point to bring up the financial state of Kansas — especially the Kansas Department of Transportation and the looming state-imposed tax lid on local governments.
“The state of Kansas hasn’t made it any fun,” Wells said.