The Kansas Department of Transportation may have to break the stalemate between Douglas and Jefferson counties about whether to close the Kansas River bridge at Lecompton when repairs are made next year.
Though the question hasn't formally been presented to KDOT, the agency has been asked by Douglas County how long it would take KDOT to decide the issue.
"If we submit it to them, we'd like them to give us an indication of some sort of timeline they would work on and when we might expect to get a response," Douglas County Commission Chairman Bob Johnson said.
Earlier this summer, Douglas County commissioners voted 2-1 to close the bridge when repairs are made. Jefferson County commissioners voted 2-1 to keep one lane open on the bridge that connects Lecompton with the Perry area. The river serves as the county line there, so both county commissions have a say in what is done with the bridge.
Since then, Johnson and Jefferson County Commissioner David Christy have met to see whether the deadlock could be broken, but so far it has held.
As a last resort, state statute allows the issue to be handed over to the Kansas Secretary of Transportation to decide.
Keeping the bridge open with one lane means the repair project would take at least 320 days and cost more than $4 million. Completely closing it would cut the project time to an estimated 140 days at a cost of $3.3 million, or $3.5 million with contractor incentives to get the job done more quickly.
Jefferson County Commissioners Lynn Luck and Christy say keeping the bridge open is better for safety because traffic wouldn't be routed onto long detours. They also think closing it would hurt businesses and the economy in the Perry area.
Douglas County Commissioners Charles Jones and Johnson voted to close the bridge, noting that even if Jefferson County had its way the span would need to be fully closed at least 50 or 60 days at various times during the project. Motorists would have short notice when those closings would occur. Commissioners say that could present its own safety problems.
And Douglas County contends that with adequate notice, communities and businesses could plan how to deal with the bridge's closing.
Whichever option is chosen, that decision must come soon if the bridge is to be fixed in 2007, Douglas County Engineer Keith Browning said.
"Time is certainly of the essence," he said. "If a decision is delayed too long, especially depending on which option is taken, it could affect whether we can do it next year."
The condition of the bridge decking is in poor enough shape that repairs really need to be done next year, Browning said.
If the bridge is closed, a contractor should start repairs about April 1, Browning said.
"If we keep one lane open then we'd sure like to start before then," he said. "We'd like to start around Feb. 1, if possible."