The 127th Street bridge in far western Johnson County doesn’t get many crossings. Only about 10 vehicles a day traverse its 100 feet across Captain Creek, on their way to either the single residence on the other side or the lonely little graveyard that lies at the dead end of the unpaved road.
The 1916 bridge is newer than the Prairie Center Cemetery, which has a few graves dating to the Civil War. But unlike the cemetery, the bridge has grown decrepit and needs replacing. The one-lane steel truss bridge is OK to drive on now, but is vulnerable to sudden and unforeseen failures, meaning that if any of its parts fails, the whole bridge could follow, say county engineers. The footings are also susceptible to sudden washouts from flood waters, they say.
The price tag to replace it? $900,000, roughly. Last month the Johnson County Commission began the process of finding the funds to replace that remote and little-used bridge.
The county will apply for a state-administered program that provides federal funds for 80 percent of the construction and inspection costs, leaving the county to pay about $250,000 for its share.
Applying for the Kansas Department of Transportation program is the county’s best option because it was set up for construction that is off the beaten path, said Geoffrey Vohs, of the county public works department. If the request is successful, work could begin as early as 2016, he said.
Although the bridge is in the county capital improvements plan, its expense and traffic count don’t put it high on the priority list, Vohs said.
A bridge closing would present a problem to visitors of the cemetery, which is well maintained and has around 300 graves.
The problem is the location. The bridge crosses the creek just before the road swings southward to the tiny spur that goes to the cemetery. The Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant limits access from the east and north, and the wilderness park lies directly to the south. The nearest north-south road, Evening Star Lane, does not cut through because of the creek. Building another road to access the cemetery would prove prohibitively expensive, said Vohs.
The county has little choice but to replace it, because other alternatives would be much more expensive, said Vohs.
Closing the bridge would completely cut off access to the one home on the other side, meaning the county would have to buy the home and surrounding acreage and pay relocation expenses to the homeowner, he said. Although he did not have an estimate of how much that would be, he said it would be more costly.
After many questions about the traffic counts, county commissioners eventually accepted that replacement is the only option. “I understand bridge safety, but it is a million dollars for — moderate use,” said Commissioner Michael Ashcraft.
Chairman Ed Eilert said the replacement is necessary, though. “The (traffic) counts are very low unless you’re number 10 who crosses it when it fails,” he said.
At some point, the park and surrounding land may become developed, he said. “Keep in mind that this is not just for today but the future also,” Eilert said.