The closure of the Bend Road bridge in eastern Franklin County has created inconvenience, safety concerns and financial hardships for residents, and they want the bridge fixed and reopened, a Pacific city official said Friday in a meeting with county commissioners.
The meeting ended with the possibility of Franklin County and Pacific sharing in the cost of an engineering study to determine what it would cost to reopen the 97-year-old bridge until a new one can be built.
Second District Commissioner Mike Schatz said there would also have to be an ongoing commitment from Pacific to keep contributing money to repair the 400-foot-long bridge if more problems crop up.
Alderman Steven Myers said he will ask the Pacific Board of Aldermen at the Dec. 3 meeting if there is a willingness to commit funding to reopen the bridge.
He and Pacific City Administrator Harold Selby met with county Commissioners John Griesheimer, Tim Brinker and Schatz. The commissioners said they closed the bridge because of safety concerns after a recent state inspection found a crack in the structure.
The Missouri Department of Transportation recommended that the bridge be repaired or closed.
“You can’t put a price tag on a human life,” Griesheimer said.
Efforts are under way to replace the bridge but under a best-case scenario it would be about two years before a new bridge was completed, County Engineer Joe Feldmann said.
Myers said no one wants the bridge to be unsafe, but he said there should be consideration of making repairs in the meantime to keep the bridge open. He said there have been 579 signatures collected from residents who would like to see repairs made to the bridge so it can stay open until a new one is built.
Even if a temporary fix can be done to keep the bridge open, county officials said other problems could crop up, requiring more money to be spent. Moreover, there would have to be ongoing inspections if it were reopened, and that would cost money, too.
Franklin County Highway Administrator Eva Gadcke has estimated that it would cost $35,000 to reopen the bridge. But county officials have since said that is a rough estimate and that the true cost is unknown.
“We don’t know what it is going to cost to keep it open even if it is repaired,” County Counselor Mark Vincent said.
County officials are reluctant to continue spending taxpayer money on a defunct bridge and would rather focus efforts on getting a new, safe bridge built.
Moreover, once a new bridge goes under construction the current one may have to be closed again, Gadcke said.
Myers said two years is a long time for residents who depend on the bridge to wait. He noted that he knows of one family who will see fuel costs rise by $6,000 a year because of the additional driving that will be brought on by the detour.
Likewise, he said a Pacific gas station, MotoMart, has seen 828 fewer customers in five days since the bridge closed, resulting in a 2,846-gallon reduction in fuel sales and a drop of $2,667 in other revenue.
He also said emergency response times have been increased because of the closure of the bridge. But county officials said fire trucks were not using the bridge before the closure.
Myers said it would be preferable if the bridge could be repaired to at least reopen it to light traffic. But making sure heavy vehicles did not use it could be difficult to enforce.
County officials say they have tried for years to secure funding to get the bridge replaced and that they are now closer than ever. The regional transportation planning agency East-West Gateway Council of Governments this year approved $160,000 for Franklin County to acquire right of way for the bridge replacement project.
And the county has also started the design and engineering for the project, which it is paying for with county dollars at a cost of $385,033. The county will also pay $165,000 for construction administration and inspection.
County officials are very optimistic that East-West Gateway will approve the remaining funding for construction next year since it has allocated dollars for right of way acquisition.
The total project, including design, engineering and construction, is expected to cost about $6 million. The county will apply to East-West Gateway for the $4.5 million in construction funds, which would be split with 80 percent federal funds and 20 percent county dollars. Between design construction, administration and inspection costs, the county would contribute a total of about $1.5 million to the project.
The county should know by the end of June whether it will get approved for the federal bridge construction funds.
In the meantime, the bridge’s closure has political implications because some people think the bridge would be fixed if it were in Washington or Wildwood, Myers said.
Griesheimer said that is not true and that he “vehemently” disagrees with that statement. He said the bridge was closed for safety purposes and that it makes him “sick” that some people would say the county closed the bridge to inconvenience them.
“There should be an apology for that,” Griesheimer said, adding that he grew up in that part of the county.
There has been a substantial commitment on the county’s part to fix Bend Road bridge, and there have been several attempts to obtain the needed funding, officials say.
In fact, Gadcke said the county has committed more money to replace Bend Road bridge than any other project in her 18 years with the county.