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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Commission decides against grant for Hell's Bend bridge

Updated: May 24

A motion to accept a $1.7 million state and federal grant to help replace the Hell's Bend bridge died for lack of a second on Monday, April 13. Commissioners failed to approve the grant even after the county's on-call engineer told them they might not receive state money for any project for several years because of that. (Journal file photo)

By Charlene Sims,

MOUND CITY – After postponing their decision last week, the Linn County Commissioners on Monday, April 13, made the decision to not accept the grant from the state for the Hell’s Bend bridge – even after the county’s on-call engineer told them that the state may not consider them for grants after turning down two grants.

Commission Chair Jason Hightower had moved to accept the grant but did not get a second from Commissioners Jim Johnson and Danny McCullough.

The bridge, which is on East 2300 Road north of La Cygne, is the only link to farm ground and a couple of houses on the west side of the bridge. The county has in discussion about the project since 2020.

The first bid on the the project would have made the county share of the bridge cost $505,000. There was only one bid, likely due to the strict regulations on time and railroad issues including a flagman required with no cap on his amount of hours.

After some adjustment to the bid document,  two contractors bid on the project and the lowest bid was for $1.99 million with the county’s share being $439,000 plus engineering and rights-of-way costs. The state would pay $1.79 million.

Kaw Valley Project Manager Chad McCullough opened his discussion with the commission by telling them when the Linn County Commissioners chose his firm for on-call services that they were not thinking about the Hell’s Bend bridge because they thought it was already a done deal and that the grant had been accepted. 

The engineer, who has 25 years of experience working with counties and the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), said that he would like to provide advisement from knowing the programs well.

“I know you have an opportunity to receive $1.7 million towards this project,” said Chad McCullough.

He explained that that project was kind of an oddity dealing with the railroad and having several people that are on a dead-end road that are kind of trapped by the railroad and the river. But, he said, the county still has the responsibility of providing access.


The engineer said that a bridge of this size would not normally cost that much money, but it does because the county has to keep the existing bridge in service and build a new bridge on an offset alignment, buy a lot of rights-of-way and accommodate the railroad.

He said he noticed that the new bridge is quite a bit longer, probably because the railroad asked for additional space to put a second track at some point in the future. The existing bridge probably didn’t meet the horizontal clearances so there’s a whole lot of complexity to this project that’s caused it to be as expensive as it is.

“I will tell you and, especially at the time that you applied for this project – and when I say that I’m talking about Linn County as a whole – you guys weren’t necessarily part of the commission at that time,” the engineer told them. “But KDOT views Linn County as a whole rather than individual commissioners or individuals.

“You know $1 million was the maximum that they advertised, so they made a special accommodation because of the need they saw for this project. To grant Linn County more money than they were offering in the program, which doesn’t happen very often. I think they’ve maybe offered more than a million dollars a handful of times in the last 15 years for bridge projects. So this is a special occasion.”

Chad McCullough explained his concerns to the commissioners about not accepting the grant. They include:

• Because this was fiscal year 2022 money from the federal government, the state has had to beg the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to hold this money for the project for the last four years. They had to pull a lot of strings to make sure this money is still available four or five years down the road.

• Tons of time has been spent on this project by your staff, by the state staff, and by the engineering firms.

• The state won’t tell you, but the county will not have the same opportunity on future applications that any other county would have. If the county doesn’t take this money it can forget about ever getting any more money for that particular bridge again if it is resubmitted. The state will never fund this project again if you don’t take their money this time and they probably will not give you a selected application for at least another five or six years.

• Even though the bridge is not falling down right now, it’s kind of a situation where you can’t wait because the next truck could take it down.

• The residents and landowners are going to be trapped on the other side of the railroad if something does happen.

• There is also the possibility that the Kansas Department of Transportation comes and does a quality control inspection of it and decides it needs to be closed. Even though it’s the county’s bridge, if they decide that its getting closed there is not a thing the county can do about it. So there’s not going to be a ton of opportunities to get this bridge funded.

• The county is going to have to replace this bridge at some point in the future and it won’t have $1.7 million of somebody else’s money to do it with.

• If Linn County was not going to use that money there were other cities and counties that could have used that money in that grant cycle. Projects could’ve been done somewhere else with that money. But it’s too late to use it.  If it doesn’t get used on this project, that money is not coming back. It will disappear into the federal budget.

Commissioner Jim Johnson asked about why layman could not read the bridge inspections results and asked Chad McCullough to explain that for him.

The engineer explained that different parts of the bridge were rated from 0 to 9. He said that 0 and 9 hardly ever get used. Most bridges get 3 to 8 ratings. He said the Hell’s Bend bridge was rated a 4 the last time it was inspected. That is how it qualified for the grant to begin with.

At Hightower’s request, Chad McCullough explained that the bridge was also a fracture critical bridge which meant if one part of the bridge failed there was no redundancy to hold it up and the whole bridge would fail. He said that KDOT has been making a push to get rid of these bridges. He told the commissioners that fracture critical bridges required expensive yearly inspections.

Commissioner Danny McCullough expressed his concerns that the bridge would have a lot of change orders and would cost the county a lot more than the bid. McCullough has said in the past that he is in that business and he knows that people bid low and add more costs later.

Chad McCullough said that a typical increase from bridge projects that KDOT supervises is 5%. He said that the state prevents a lot of changes because their design people, construction companies and engineers go over every part of the plans.

Hightower said he did not see how the county was going to fix it cheaper in the future and made a motion to accept the grant from the state. Johnson and Danny McCullough did not second the grant.

Commissioner McCullough said, “I’m not there yet.”

“I’m not there,” said Johnson. 

After Hightower’s motion to accept the grant was not seconded, Chad McCullough asked the commissioners if they wanted to submit any grant applications this year. He commented that his rate was $200 per hour for developing the projects and it might not be very fruitful since they had turned down the grants.

County Clerk David Lamb questioned what action was going to be taken since there was not a second.

“You’re looking at something that is going to be 80% funded, only costing the county 20%, and I do not claim to be a bridge expert at all but I think if it’s a bridge that at some point would need to be replaced I don’t understand why you wouldn’t take advantage of that 80% funding into it.”

Commissioner McCullough questioned several times whether there was a list that showed what bridges needed to be replaced first in the county. He insisted that he needed to see a list. At the May 6 meeting, West had given the commissioners much of the same information that the engineer did including a list that had the bridges priority for replacement highlighted.

County Counselor Mark Haden asked for an executive session that lasted an hour and when they came out he said that West would have to contact the state and tell them that the county was not interested in accepting the grant and that is what could be put in the minutes by Lamb.

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