Crumbling west Wichita bridge looks bad, but officials say it’s structurally sound

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Mel Hussey has lived near the 13th Street bridge near Sedgwick County Park for 14 years.

“There’s always pieces falling off,” said Hussey. “You can see pieces of concrete that I’m pointing at over here that will fall off any day.”

He’s seen the bridge get worse over the years.

“It does continue to weather erode. The steel rusts and falls down,” said Hussey.

Both sides of the bridge have the rebar or reinforcement steel rods exposed and rusting with pieces of concrete hanging. By the looks of the bridge, Hussey said he hopes it doesn’t fail especially with the increased traffic since the 13th flyover was added a few years ago.

“As long as it’s moving that’s ok, but if you have a lot of trucks stopped on it during rush hour, that creates a lot more impact on the bridge,” said Hussey.

KSN reached out to the City of Wichita. The city said the bridge is structurally sound and safe for drivers.

“Even though this looks bad, there is no public safety issue right now,” said Gary Janzen, City of Wichita Engineer.

The reason for the cosmetic issues along the outer edges of the bridge Janzen said is due to a design flaw of the 45-year-old bridge.

“‘With the climate that we live in, over 45 years of using salt and salt type mixes when we get snow and ice, that drainage goes right over the edge of that deck and causes the deterioration that you see,” said Janzen.

The city had the bridge inspected on Oct. 9, 2019 to see if the bridge’s condition had changed from it’s formal inspection on Oct. 13, 2017.

In a letter addressed to the City of Wichita that KSN obtained from an open records request, bridge inspector Clint Hamblin with TranSystems wrote his findings.

“The field inspection verified that the existing condition has not advanced to a level of concern that would impact the service of the structure. The deterioration found is limited to the exterior 2′-3′ of the bridge deck and typical of this type of structure in which water is allowed to drain off of the edge of the deck. The rest of the superstructure is in good condition.”

– Clint Hamblin, Bridge Inspector

Hamblin goes on to say:

“This type of deterioration is difficult to fix cosmetically. Patching could be tried, but it will usually fail relatively shortly. The best option for a more permanent fix would be to remove the exterior 3-4′ of bridge and rebuild it with a closed rail and deck drains.”

-Clint Hamblin, Bridge Inspector

The bridge was built in 1974 with a lifespan of about 60 years.

“We still got some time left on this bridge,” said Janzen. “At some point in time, I would expect in the next five years that we probably will do some maintenance and rehabilitation on this bridge to further expand that life.”

The Big Slough runs under the bridge and later empties into the M.S. “mitch” Mitchell Floodway formerly called the Big Ditch. Janzen said they will look into giving attention to the bridge sooner than later to clean up some of the loose material that’s breaking away from the bridge.

“We don’t want to cause any issues with the waterways,” said Janzen.

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