The East Chestnut bridge in Arkansas City should be totally rebuilt for several million dollars, or torn down and not replaced, an engineering firm told Cowley County Commissioners this week.

Commissioners tabled any major action on the bridge until Nov. 19, after hearing a presentation by MKEC engineering and concerned citizens who use span over the Walnut River, which has been closed since May flooding.

Commission chair Bob Voegele said he was not ready to make any decision about the bridge after hearing the presentation and before the county hears from FEMA about possible funding to cover damages from the spring floods, so he requested that the item be tabled and it was 3-0.

The engineering consultants were asked to prepare a Life-Cycle Cost Analysis and Benefit to Cost Comparison on possible options for the bridge. 

In addition to the bridge itself, the analysis took into account the condition of the road and the effects of the Walnut River on the river banks under the bridge. The analysis also includes drawings of the area for comparison.

The consultants — Jay Anglemeyer, Ken Kallenbach and Karl Svaty — offered five alternatives for what to do with the bridge. 

One would remove the bridge, build a new approach roadway and a new bridge for an estimated $3,270,000. The new bridge would be longer than the current one so it would span the flood plain to counter the action of the river which continues to erode the banks as it works on creating an oxbow lake.

The first alternative would replace the bridge and stabilize the river immediately at a combined cost of $4,743,785. 

The second alternative would be to stabilize the bank immediately and replace the bridge in five years at a cost of $5,268,009. That cost would include period funds to keep up the bank stabilization.

A third alternative would replace the bridge in eight years and stabilize the banks immediately at a cost of $4,549,267, including $80,000 for periodic bank repair.

A fourth alternative would remove and replace the bridge in three years at a cost of $4,765.916, including $968,354 for annual bank repair.

The fifth alternative would be to remove the existing bridge and not replace it for $250,000.

The engineers’ report also calculated the estimated loss of of value over 30 years for motorists without the bridge: $19,718,169 for passenger mileage time value, $3,344,746 for commercial vehicle mileage value.

County Administrator Lucas Goff said he had asked for the analysis because the commission needed hard data before they made a decision on the bridge. 

The consultants warned the commissioners that no matter what choice they make, the river will continue to work on eroding the banks.  

Commissioner Alan Groom looked at the price of the first proposal and said he doubted they could get the removal and replacement of the bridge for less than $4 million. 

He also said, as he had done at another meeting, that if he knew earlier what he knows now about the condition of the bridge, his thinking would be different.

Commissioners learned last month that the bridge is in worse condition than they thought after Goff himself inspected the bridge with another engineering firm, Finney and Turnipseed. Goff said the structural integrity of the 1925 bridge is now in question.

Engineer Jay Anglemeyer of MKEC reminded commissioners that MKEC had done the fracture critical analysis of the bridge in 2014 and had recommended then that it be taken down and not replaced. 

Some audience members from Arkansas City commented on the possible actions on the bridge. Christy Rogers mentioned the time that would be added to an ambulance’s getting to a house on the east side of the river. 

She spoke of her daughter’s illness and said an extra three and a half minutes — added to travel time if the bridge were removed — could make a critical difference.

Ark City city commissioner Jay Warren spoke on behalf of city manager Nick Hernandez and said they want to be included in the discussion of any plans for the bridge. 

Another person asked about a study that would look at the effects on the city streets if the bridge were closed permanently. 

Voegele said one step  county commissioners need to make is to start talking with other parties — the cities of Arkansas City and Parkerfield, Cresswell Township and the state to see about sharing costs of replacing the bridge.

Commissioner Wayne Wilt said to the commissioners that he saw the commission as having two choices: replacing the bridge according to the first recommendation, or closing and removing the bridge permanently. The consultants agreed.

The commission will meet again at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

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