Bridge replacement given priority under proposed county budget cut

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Crews work to replace narrow culverts on Friday, July 6, 2018 as part of ongoing roadway safety upgrades to a section of County Route 458, about 5 miles east of Wells Overlook. Douglas County Public Works will continue to replace old, narrow culverts at the current rate if a proposed cut to its annual capital project allocation is approved but will reduce the number of miles of roadway safety upgrades it completes annually.

The improvements Douglas County Public Works completed on County Route 458 south of Clinton Lake will be the last of their kind for the foreseeable future if the Douglas County Commission follows up with a recommendation in the proposed 2019 budget.

Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug presented county commissioners last month a proposed 2019 budget that would reduce by $1.4 million, or about half, the annual capital project allocation Douglas County Public Works receives. The allocation pays for road improvements and bridge and culvert replacement, as well as county parks upgrades. The $1.4 million would be transferred to a capital account used to address overcrowding at the county jail.

Douglas County Public Works Director Keith Browning told commissioners on June 25 that if the capital fund was cut at the rate proposed, public works would reduce spending from 2019 to 2023 on road and bridge capital projects from $25.48 million to $18.63 million.

Most of public works’ reduced capital project spending would come from the reduction in scope of projects designed to improve safety on rural roads. With the proposed cut in capital project funding, public works would scale back road safety enhancements from the current average of 1.7 miles per year to 0.8 miles per year, Browning said. Roadway safety upgrades would also be limited to the most critical projects.

Browning said two projects are part of the county’s aggressive approach to improving the safety of rural roads: The County Route 458 project south of Clinton Dam that was completed in the fall, and current safety improvements on a 2-mile section of CR 458 from East 1800 to East 2000 roads, about 4.5 to 6.5 miles east of Wells Overlook. Studies show accidents on rural roads are more often fatal than those on state or federal highways because of such factors as steep ditches, trees in rights of way or narrow culverts or bridges, he said. The county’s roadway safety enhancements address those issues.

Paved shoulders also have been part of safety improvements at select sections of road, but not all. For example, the CR 458 project south of Clinton Lake included paved shoulders but the current improvements to CR 458 east of Well’s Overlook does not. They are expensive because they usually require the purchase of easement and the relocation of utilities running along the road, said Chad Voigt, assistant director of Douglas County Public Works. With their elimination, the county will continue to target dangerous sections of well-traveled rural roads for safety improvements with the other road safety improvements of longer culverts, lessening ditch slopes and removal of trees from rights of way.

“Paved shoulders are very expensive to put in place,” Voigt said. “They are nice, but of all the improvements, they’re not as critical.”

With reduced capital funding, paved shoulders would no longer be installed on three roadway safety improvements planned for CR 1055, a well-traveled road that connects Lawrence to Baldwin City and passes through Vinland. Those projects are:

• A 2-mile section of CR 1055 (Haskell Avenue in Lawrence) from the Wakarusa Bridge south 2 miles to the road’s junction with CR 458. The project is planned for 2019 at a cost of $2.15 million.

• A half-mile section east of the above intersection on which CR 458 and CR 1055 share the same roadway. The project is planned for 2021 at a cost of $1.8 million.

• Realignment of a curve on CR 1055 a half-mile west of Vinland. The project was to have realigned the curve to allow for greater speeds and added paved shoulders to 0.7 miles of roadway at the curve. The project also included the replacement of two bridges near the curve. With the proposed capital fund cut, the project will be scaled back to just the bridge replacements. It is scheduled for 2020 at a cost of $1 million.

Bridge, culvert replacement schedule maintained

What won’t change with reduced capital funding is the schedule to replace the 1,120 culverts on rural roads, Voigt said. The culverts will still be replaced at the rate of 20 every five years.

Although adjustments would be made, there also would be little change to the schedule to replace or rehabilitate the county’s 157 bridges, Browning said. Even with the capital allocation cut, the county will maintain a schedule of replacing or extensively rehabilitating seven bridges every five years, or 13 every 10 years.

“We don’t want to get in the position of replacing 20 or 30 bridges in a couple of years,” Browning said. “If we keep on schedule, we should be in pretty good shape.”

The bridge replacement schedule is a lesson from the past, Weinaug said. Seventy of the county’s bridges were constructed from 1975 to 1985 from proceeds of a bond issue that also built the Massachusetts Street and Vermont Street bridges over the Kansas River in 1976 (those bridges have since been turned over to the city of Lawrence), Voigt said. At that time, road development in rural Douglas County outpaced bridge building and replacement, he said.

The county’s bridges have about an 80-year lifespan, Browning said. The county looks to prolong the life of bridges through rehabilitation work that includes deck replacement, installation of strengthening studs within the decks and, when necessary, replacement of bearings between bridge piers and the girders that support the deck, which allows a bridge’s upper structure to expand and contract with temperature changes.

The Douglas County Commission will resume its 2019 budget discussions at 8 a.m. Monday at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.


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