Crumbling Kansas bridges

Local

Here in Sedgwick County thousands of drivers use bridges and overpasses everyday on our roadways.

But, all that use along with our rough Kansas weather can take a toll on them and even make some of them structurally deficient. In a special report KSN is looking at the safety of our bridges and what’s being done to make sure the bridges keeping standing.

Kansas has over 25,000 bridges, but many of them are aging badly. Some of these bridges are rusting, the concrete is falling apart. More than 2,200 of them are considered structurally deficient, that’s about 9 percent, and will need significant maintenance or replacement. It adds up to millions in tax dollars to fix our crumbling infrastructure.

Sedgwick County has 593 bridges, as of right now, 25 of them are structurally deficient. Bridge Engineer Penny Evans says the County spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix and maintain these aging structures.

“Maintenance, and if we find a defective bridge something defective about a structure will either do heavy maintenance on it, repairs, or will try to get it programmed for replacement,” said Evans.

Click map to lookup bridges in your area.
Click map to lookup bridges in your area at Transportation for America website.

Some federal and state funding is available to replace structurally deficient bridges. Sedgwick County will receive $500,000 from the federal government, to replace the bridge over Polecat Creek at 143rd East near 71st Street South. The state is chipping in $120,000 for bridge replacement at 103rd South, near 311th West. Over the next three years, the county has plans to replace 23 bridges, and eventually 8 more, at a cost of $17.2 million.

So, what exactly makes a bridge structurally deficient? Each bridge is graded on three criteria based on the National Bridge Inventory rating scale of 0 to 8. Engineers look at the bridge deck, the driving surface. The super-structure, which is the bridge span, and substructure, such as the as piers and the abutment. A score below 4 in any of the categories automatically designates that bridge as structurally deficient. Instead of being inspected bi-annually, it moves to annual inspections.

Out of the 278 bridges in Wichita, the Harry Street Bridge over the Arkansas River and the 15th Street North Bridge over the canal, are structurally deficient. Gary Janzen, is the City Engineer for Wichita.

“This is something that we need to address relatively soon. We need to get someone out here to come and blast these, we need to find out how much loss we got,” said Janzen.

The city shutdown one of its structurally deficient bridges, the 10th Street Bridge over the canal. The City plans on taking the bridge down in the future.

Maintaining city bridges isn’t cheap. Annually, Wichita spends about $500,000 in bridge maintenance.

kdot-bridges-chart
Click to view 2015 KDOT report

The City plans on replacing the 15th Street Bridge in the next couple of years, at a cost of $1.7 million.

The Harry Street project could be completed by 2017, at a cost of $1.2 million.

Gary Janzen describes what’s damaging our bridges. “Mostly, it’s attributed to water and salt over the years. Obviously, we have a lot of snow and ice treatment especially on our bridges that is causing corrosion on steel beams underneath,” said Janzen.

KDOT has 51 bridges that are structurally deficient, The KTA has 10. Five of KDOT’s are here in the Metro. The two of most concern are the north and southbound lanes of the I-235 Bridge over the Little Arkansas River. KDOT Bridge Engineer Don Whisler says they’ve done something called “cribbing”, which is putting up a metal support to stabilize it.

“Mostly, it’s attributed to water and salt over the years. Obviously, we have a lot of snow and ice treatment especially on our bridges that is causing corrosion on steel beams underneath,” said Gary Janzen, Wichita City Engineer

“Anytime you crib a bridge, you keep an eye on it. And, like I said it’s in the works to be replaced. When that happens I can’t answer that. We’re in the works to keep it safe until that happens,” said Whisler.

Bridge Engineers watch for cracks too. Whisler says bridge hits from cars and trucks are damaging Kansas freeway bridges and overpasses and costing the state tens of thousands of dollars.

“But, it’s the little ones where they nick it, and that can lead to a crack, not saying it can lead to a failure, but it can lead to a problem,” said Whisler.

The state pays tens of millions of dollars in bridge expenses every year. In 2015, KDOT spent

KDOT: Bridge Age - Click to view report
KDOT: Bridge Age – Click to view report

$131-million on bridge maintenance, repair and replacement projects. This spring the state will begin the I-235 Wichita flood control canal bridge project. The other projects are currently under design, there’s no completion date as of yet. It will cost KDOT almost $21 million dollars for all the work.

The big question remains, can structurally deficient bridges collapse? City Engineer Gary Janzen says no. “Again, that does not mean the bridge is in peril, it is not in danger. But, it is something that we look at before it gets any worse,” said Janzen.

The worse it gets though, the more money it costs to fix and, eventually replacement is the only option. A new possible challenge for Kansas bridges according to Janzen, damage from earthquakes.

“Our bridges are not designed to withstand a major earthquake. Without a doubt, they have some flexibility we have new technology with bridges, they’ll hold up,” said Janzen.

As Kansas bridges continue to age, more will end up on the structurally deficient list, requiring expensive repairs and maintenance and eventually tens of millions of dollars will have to be spent to replace them, to keep our roadways running smoothly.

Right now, the State, City and County are going over their latest inspection numbers for 2015 and could either eliminate or add more bridges to the structurally deficient list.

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