Residents want counties to save or replace bridge

They filled the Ramona Senior Center Monday afternoon. Some were there to save a historic bridge. Some were there to save time and fuel.

Marion County Commission and Dickinson County Commission held a joint public meeting to hear comment regarding a bridge on 370th Road between Remington and Sunflower, right at the Marion/Dickinson county line.

The resounding comment that was heard was to either save the 90-year-old steel structure in some fashion or replace it with a modern concrete bridge that could better serve the agriculture producers and residents in the area.

For Jessica Gilbert, Ramona City Clerk and business owner, she wants the structure to remain.

"The bridge is important to us," she said, and it holds a "soft spot in our hearts" because of its historic value. Gilbert said the farmers' needs should come first but she was in favor of saving the bridge instead of replacing it.

Mark Heiser said he was a Centre USD 397 board member and a volunteer firefighter. He asked what prompted the counties to consider replacing the bridge. Did it fail an inspection?

Acting Marion County Public Works Director John Summerville said it was determined by an engineer consultant, who recently inspected the bridge, that the bridge needed to be replaced.

"It's beyond saving as far as safety is concerned," he said.

A sign indicating a three-ton weight limit has been posted near the crossing but those in attendance at the meeting said they know that school buses and farm equipment which weigh significantly more than three tons have traveled over the bridge.

Summerville said the bridge was built in 1915.

Marion County Commissioner Randy Dallke asked if the bridge was used quite a bit by school buses.

Heiser responded that he knows school buses have used it in the past and it would be helpful if buses could use it.

He also said it would be advantageous to have the bridge available when responding to fires.

"The shortest access to a fire is the best," Heiser said.

Dickinson County Commissioner Joe Nold said a recent traffic count on the bridge indicated less than one vehicle per day used the bridge.

The approximate cost of the bridge is $300,000, which would average out to $30 per trip over the bridge for a 30-year life span of the bridge.

Heiser suggested the commissions seek a second engineer's opinion about the structure.

"The worst thing you can do is to take an engineer's recommendation, go around it, and then something happening," Nold said.

Residents in the area told the commissioner that they use the bridge to travel to and from work because it is the most direct route and, in some cases, the only route when a train is on the tracks.

Rick Hanschu said he has land and uses the bridge to get to his fields.

"I can go around but I will thank the commissioners when gas goes over $4 per gallon and I don't have to drive any further than necessary," he said.

Marion resident Jerry Cady owns 80 acres north of the bridge.

"The creek runs through the middle of my property and I can only access both sides of my property by using the bridge," he said.

Weather also determines the use of the bridge. When roads are wet, the bridge isn't used as much because the road leading to the bridge becomes too soggy.

Ramona Mayor Pat Wick said she understands the needs of ag producers and doesn't want to cause a hardship for farmers but wanted to know the options.

"By putting in a new bridge it will knock out nostalgia," she said.

Mike Beltz said he owns property on both sides of the bridge.

"Losing the bridge would be devastating. It would be a real nightmare to have to drive around," he said. "A new bridge would be better but if a new bridge isn't an option then we need to keep what we have."

Beltz commented later in the meeting that he had observed an ambulance using the bridge three or four times a year because it was unable to use other roads because trains were blocking crossings.

Angel Harold of Ramona asked if the road could be straightened, a new bridge constructed, and the old bridge saved. She added later in the meeting that there were few roads to and from Ramona that weren't mud or dead ends, or hindered by train tracks.

John Antoszyk, who lives on Remington Road, said this was a common practice in Pennsylvania. He then volunteered to weld a metal walkway so vehicles couldn't drive across the bridge.

Irvin Monick said the bridge also was used to access a cemetery that still had burials.

Kent Brunner, who also owns property in the area, said the traffic count would be substantially higher if there was a new bridge.

"Whatever we decide to do won't be done tomorrow," Nold said. He cautioned people to obey weight limits and exercise caution.

Dallke asked if weight limits were being violated.

"It happens especially during harvest," Beltz said.

Beltz said he would be willing to give up some of his land to make this work.

Hanschu asked why there were weight limits on the bridge just lately and not before? Who was responsible?

Harold asked if the bridge could be closed. The commission responded that also was a possibility.

Tony Meyer, 96, the oldest Ramona resident, also was passionate about saving the bridge, suggesting it be moved from the rural site and placed in Ramona City Park so children could play on it.

"I'd even be willing to help pay to have that done," he said.

Summerville said the bridge will be inspected again in the fall.

Dickinson County Commissioner Sheila Biggs said whatever is decided, the two counties will share the costs, based on the counties' valuations. Marion County would pay less because Marion County's valuation is less than Dickinson County.

The Marion County Commission will meet with the Dickinson County Commission at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at Abilene for a work session.