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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Deadline for county decision on Hell's Bend project looms

Updated: Dec 29, 2023


The Hell's Bend bridge replacement project is expected to cost more than $2.3 mllion and the Linn County Commission will need to decide whether to commit to the project by Jan. 5. (Journal file photo)


By Charlene Sims, info@linncountyjournal.com


MOUND CITY – Despite a looming deadline by the state transportation department for a response from the county on its commitment to a $2.3 million dollar bridge project, the Linn County Commission on Tuesday, Dec. 26, decided to postpone the decision for a week.


County Public Works Director Shaun West brought more information to the commissioners on Tuesday about the Hell’s Bend Bridge Project. The commissioners decided to wait on making a decision until Commission Chair Danny McCullough was at the meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 2.


The state department of transportation wants a decision from the county to proceed or decline to do the project by Jan. 5


West had reported last week that because only one company had bid on the project the county’s cost for the project would increase from $361,000 to $505,000. Commissioners had asked him to bring back more information about the bridge before continuing with the project.


In a phone call after the meeting, West said that the county had already spent $70,000 on the engineering of the project and purchasing easements and permits which did not count toward the match. He also said that the grant was an 80/20 match.


During the phone call, West said that his considerations about replacing the bridge included the age of the bridge, the type of bridge and the completed purchases of the engineering, the easements, and the permits but also the safety of the bridge. He said that the new plans will make the bridge safer because the slope of the roadway will be changed.


This week, West explained that the bridge was called a “fracture critical bridge,” which is defined as a steel bridge with members in tension in which there is no load path structural or internal redundancy. He said that this meant that if one of the parts of the bridge failed, there would be no redundancy to its load-bearing and the bridge would fall.


He told the commissioners that out of the 20,500 bridges in Kansas there were approximately 600 fracture critical bridges, and that is the reason that the state was offering grants to replace those bridges before they failed. There is one other fracture critical bridge in Linn County.


The other bridge that is over Mine Creek was built in 1990 and is on State Line Road, five miles east and seven miles north of Pleasanton. Linn County has a border agreement that states Missouri will do the inspections of the bridge and provide maintenance. Because the bridge is considered to be owned 50/50 by Linn County and Bates County, Missouri in the event the bridge needed to be replaced they would share the costs.


Hell’s Bend Bridge, built in 1957, is on 2300 Road northeast of La Cygne and spans the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad tracks. That road with the bridge is the only access to land across the railroad tracks for farmers and for at least one residence there. 


West said that from the multiple inspections that he had looked over and attached for the commissioners, the condition of the bridge has not changed over the last several years. He said the bridge itself is not failing; it is the type of bridge and its potential to fail critically is the reason the grant is available.


He said there was also a question on load ratings. In one location in the paperwork, it says it has a load limit of 9 tons, but if you look that has never changed although another page says the load rating and load posting is 8 tons. He said he could not explain the difference in ratings.


“The stability and condition of the bridge isn’t changing, although its been marked for its surface rust on several parts, and its also been marked for its surfacing on the decking of the bridge at different times for repairs. The actual condition of the bridge has not changed much over the last several years,” said West.


Bridge failures in other states lead the impetus toward questioning of these bridges and increased inspections. One of the most noteworthy failures was in 1967, when the Point Pleasant Bridge over the Ohio River (also know as the Silver Bridge) collapsed, resulting in 46 deaths.


Another collapse of the Mianus River Bridge in 1983 was caused by the failure of a pin and hanger assembly.

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