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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

With offer from state, commission votes to replace controversial bridge

Updated: Jun 27

Work is expected to begin soon on replacing this bridge over railroad tracks in the Hell's Bend area north of La Cygne. (Journal file photo)

By Charlene Sims,

MOUND CITY – Apparently the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) offered the Linn County Commission a deal it couldn’t refuse.

After months of discussion and a motion not to accept grant money from the state to replace Hell’s Bend bridge north of La Cygne, the ommissioners on Monday, June 17, voted to accept the grant because the state had lowered the county’s share from $439,000 down to $180,000.

County Counselor Mark Hagen suggested that the commissioners go into executive session to discuss the offer from the state. After the executive session, they took  action by signing a commitment to the state pledging the funds for replacing the Hell’s Bend Bridge.

The bridge has been a point of contention for the commissioners because two commissioners, Jim Johnson and Danny McCullough, did not think that it was a priority because they felt that other bridges in the county were in worse condition.

Even when they on-call county engineer explained to them the importance of replacing the bridge and accepting the grant funds, Johnson and McCullough refused to agree to paying the $439,000 matching funds.

The federal government and state were offering funds to replace the bridge built in 1957, because it was 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. 

After executive session, Hagen explained that late Friday afternoon, he had received a letter from KDOT that said after official there deliberated the Hell’s Bend Project, the project could continue if the county committed to $180,000 for the project with no additional amounts added.

Hagen said that if the county agreed to that by Monday afternoon the state would proceed with the bridge project. 

McCullough pointed out that the $180,000 was the amount the county committed to the original project several years ago when the total project was going to cost about $900,000. 

Hagen provided some history, agreeing that was the original amount that the county had committed. But after some reengineering and reletting the bid, the total of the bridge increased to nearly $2 million. 

Hagen said that the secretary of KDOT did not offer any explanations or                                      reason for the change of the amount. Hagen said he had not asked why.

Both Johnson and McCullough said they were okay with the total of $180,000 with no additions or change orders being added to the county’s share.

Hightower who had made a motion at an earlier meeting to accept the contract said that he still believed that the bridge needed to be replaced and this was certainly a better deal for the county.

Before the meeting was over, KDOT had received the commissioners’ decision and they had sent back an agreement for the commissioners to sign. Hightower made the motion to accept the motion to award contract and to commit county funds to the project. The motion passed unanimously.

In a later email conversation when asked why the state decided to make this offer, Tod Salfrank, Chief, Bureau of Local Projects sent the following statement:

"The decision to use state funds to get this project to the finish line was not taken lightly and was ultimately authorized by the Secretary of Transportation. The primary consideration was the safety and welfare of the property owners within the Hell’s Bend of the Marais des Cygnes River, who rely on this crossing as the only access to their properties.   Another consideration is the recent escalation of prices for bridge projects like this.  The inevitable replacement of this bridge will only get more expensive as time goes by, making now the right time to replace the structure."

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