It might be good for Lawrence residents to clip out some photos of Wednesday's bridge collapse in Minneapolis so they can pull them out for another look next May.
That's when construction is scheduled to begin to replace the double Kansas Turnpike bridge over the Kansas River. A reminder of how important it is to maintain and, in a timely manner, replace aging bridges may make us all a little more tolerant of the inconvenience the bridge project will cause.
The Kansas River bridge was built as part of the original turnpike construction from 1954 to 1956. That makes it more than a decade older than the Mississippi River bridge that collapsed. Because there was no need to accommodate shipping traffic here, the design of the Kaw bridge was significantly different than for the Minneapolis bridge, but Wednesday's tragedy is a reminder that even the best bridges don't last forever.
After 50 years, it's simply time for an update. Not only will the new bridges be wider, they will be built using an additional 50 years worth of safety and technical expertise. After a construction phase that is estimated to last until fall of 2011, turnpike travelers can expect to have bridges that are far safer than the current spans.
The replacement will cost about $140 million, the most expensive bridges on the turnpike and an amount about equal to the cost of building the entire length of the turnpike in the 1950s. That cost, however, seems less significant in light of Wednesday's tragedy. In fact, legislatures across the country might find considerable support in the months to come for increased spending on highways and bridges.
Obviously, the local project will cause inconvenience. The West Lawrence interchange will be closed to westbound traffic for about eight months, followed by complete closure of the East Lawrence interchange for eight months. Plans are to rebuild the bridges one span at a time and keep traffic moving on the other span, although those in charge of construction should carefully consider any implication that the Minneapolis collapse was tied to construction on the bridge. Forcing traffic to detour completely around the bridge would be a drastic move but not nearly so drastic as a repeat of the Minneapolis tragedy.
The pictures and stories from Minneapolis should put our bridge replacement project in the proper perspective and make us all a little more patient with any inconvenience the construction may cause.