Jefferson County is ready to take its arguments for keeping the Lecompton bridge open during repairs to the Kansas Department of Transportation.
During their Monday meeting, Commissioners David Christy, Lynn Luck and Francis Grollmes signed a letter requesting a hearing on the issue. Christy said he would take the letter to Kansas Secretary of Transportation Deb Miller by today.
The hearing is being sought because Jefferson and Douglas County commissioners disagree on the bridge issue. Douglas County maintains it is better to close it completely during repairs expected to begin next year. Douglas County wants to proceed with design plans for closing the bridge and has directed its engineering consultant to start on them.
Jefferson County's decision came after the commission received a letter from Douglas County commissioners Friday. In that letter, Douglas County commissioners outlined their reasons for wanting the bridge closed and asked if Jefferson County would participate under one of three options:
l Go along with an initial agreement to pay about 11 percent of the repair costs, including contractor incentives.
l Limit its financial commitment to engineering and design work but pay none of the repair costs.
l Limit its financial commitment to engineering and design work and pay 100 percent of any contractor incentives. Jefferson County could determine the amount of the incentives.
If those options were rejected, Douglas County said it would go it alone paying for the project and closing the bridge.
But Jefferson County insists state law and an agreement it has with Douglas County allow it to request KDOT to settle the bridge issue.
"We feel we have other options," Christy said. "We feel we have options in addition to these, and one of them is the hearing."
Douglas County commissioners said they were informed a few weeks ago by KDOT that if the state highway department were to decide the issue, it could take up to 60 days. Commissioners and County Engineer Keith Browning said that could delay obtaining contractor bids and getting repair work started early next year.
Jefferson County commissioners said they would seek an expedited decision by KDOT but added that they would not accept blame for delaying the project. They said Douglas County's letter could have been sent to them weeks ago.
Douglas County Commission Chairman Bob Johnson questioned whether state law allows KDOT to conduct a hearing and determine the outcome if only one county requests the hearing and participates.
"I guess we'll see," he said.
Jefferson County has argued the bridge should be left open to one lane because closure would cause hardship for Perry businesses and the Perry-Lecompton school district.
Douglas County has argued closing the bridge and getting the job done in 140 days instead of 320 days would be safer and result in a bridge with fewer maintenance problems in the future. The cost of bridge repairs is estimated at a minimum of $3.3 million if closed and about $4 million if left open.