PRAIRIE CENTER, Kan. --- The 99-year-old steel truss bridge sits in western Johnson County out in the country near the town of Eudora. Connected by gravel road, it crosses Captain's Creek and dead ends at a small cemetery. Only one person lives on the other side, and an average of ten people cross it each day. Despite the lack of use, age and the elements are causing it to fall apart and now Johnson County Commissioners are moving forward with plans to replace it. The cost?
While that seems like an awful lot of money to spend on such a little used bridge, Johnson County officials say it's their responsibility to take care of it.
"It's been deteriorating for 99 years so we always keep an eye on bridges that are older," said Don Hovey, Construction Engineer for Johnson County. "It's also fracture critical, which means if one key part fails, the whole bridge would fail."
Hovey said the county has worked hard over the past century to maintain the bridge but in recent years, it's only worsened. It is now at the point where the County is eligible for federal funding to help fix it. County officials are going through the Kansas Department of Transportation to apply for federal grants to cover most of the cost. Local taxpayers would end up spending around $250,000.
"The purpose of the federal aid program where we're getting the bridge funding from is to replace bridges like this," Hovey said. "It's bridges that are in danger of collapsing at some point and time. Not now, but some time down the road."
Built in 1916, those who lived in the Prairie Center area used to drive over the bridge all the time. But when the Sunflower Ammunition Plant bought the surrounding land in the 1940's, they cut off access to the road. Commissioners have debated buying back the surrounding land but it is contaminated and currently being cleaned up. They've also debated paying to have the one homeowner on the other side move, but that would also be too costly. Plus it would cut off residents from visiting their loved ones at the Prairie Center Cemetery, built in 1885.
"We've tried to maintain it really well. We inspect it frequently," Hovey said. "Right now it's in pretty good shape but as time goes on, it is certainly a concern.
"Our decision point is we either have to maintain this bridge and keep it open or replace it, so I think we have to eventually plan on replacing it."
If the County is awarded federal funding, the plan is to begin the process of replacing it sometime in 2016.