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County bridges are safe to travel

As long as weight limit signs are obeyed

Staff writer

Marion County Commission was assured Monday by engineer Kenny Blair that county bridges are safe to travel.

Blair of Cook, Flatt & Strobel, apologized to the commission for the confusion caused by Milton Lowmaster at a previous meeting.

At the meeting of Sept. 8, Lowmaster informed the commission that 47 bridges on off-system county roads had low ratings and were unsafe for school buses.

However at Monday’s meeting, Blair explained that all of the bridges in Marion County that have been inspected by the firm are safe for the posted loads.

Drivers of school buses, semis, and other heavy equipment should know the weights of their vehicles and follow the signs, Blair said.

There is one bridge that needs to be replaced and is slated to be replaced. There are more than 20 bridges on off-system roads that cannot handle more than a 10-ton load limit.

“It’s a matter of obeying posted weight limits,” Blair said.

Road and bridge superintendent John Summerville said the county bridges were checked and none were found to be improperly posted with weight limits.

Further discussion revealed that inspections are conducted by engineers for bridges that are 20 feet or longer with the county being responsible for the shorter bridges.

In 1991, Cook, Flatt & Strobel provided a report of the load rates. As new bridges are constructed, they are load-rated, Blair said.

He continued that the two main causes of damage to bridges are storms and drivers not abiding by weight limit signs.

The issues facing Marion County are no different than those faced in other counties.

“You (Marion County) are fully utilizing grant funds for new bridges but grants aren’t available for off-system bridges,” Blair said, referring to 80 percent grants provided by Kansas Department of Transportation.

Commission chairman Bob Hein said he was aware of KDOT inspecting more than 4,000 bridges in the state, including Marion County. Blair said he was not aware of any bridge collapsing in Kansas because of condition.

Currently the engineering firm is conducting inspections on county bridges.

Every bridge gets a sufficiency rating from 0 to 100. When a bridge drops below 50 then it qualifies for the KDOT bridge replacement program.

“It doesn’t mean the bridge is going to fall in and hurt people,” Blair said. “It means that a bridge has been posted with a 10-ton weight limit.”

Commissioner Dan Holub asked if the inspection will advise the commission if a bridge needs to be closed. Blair said it would.

“That’s why you hire a professional engineer to inspect the bridges,” he said.

However, just because a bridge receives a low rating doesn’t mean the bridge has to be replaced. Funds probably should be used for bridges with higher ratings if they are more heavily traveled than a bridge with a lower rating that is rarely used.

Information provided by Blair indicated that an empty 65-passenger bus weighs 8.4 tons, a bus half-full weighs 11 tons, and full bus weighs 13.5 tons.

An empty 35-passenger bus weighs 6.5 tons, half-full 7.8 tons, and full nine tons.

Bus manufacturers may have different weight limits but these are the standard, Blair said.

On the main routes, Blair said there was only one bridge that is slated to be replaced but should not pose a danger as long as bus drivers obey the posted weight limits.

Last modified Sept. 17, 2008

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