Elevated safety: City, county ensure local bridges are safe

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Simon and Garfunkel’s famed song stories a “Bridge over Troubled Water,” but after last year’s bridge collapse in Minneapolis, Americans are wondering if the bridges might just be more troublesome than the water below them.

On August 1, 2007, rush hour traffic quickly became the least of the worries of drivers on an Interstate-35 westbound bridge in Minneapolis as their cars plunged into the Mississippi River. The collapse was caused by the corrosion of the outer shell of the bridge that carries more than 140,000 vehicles daily.

MSNBC.com also said the Minneapolis bridge last was inspected in 2005 when it was given a National Bridge Inventory rating of “structurally deficient” and given a near-failing score. However, the same bridge that concerned some officials since 1990 was left in place after being marked as meeting the very minimum requirements to continue normal function.

Less than a year later, questions remain across the nation about the safety of local bridges people cross every day. Fortunately, Kansas and Riley County seem to check out OK when it comes to public safety.

“Bridge Tracker,” a

feature on MSNBC.com allows users to check detailed safety reports of specific bridges, overpasses and ramps within 0.2 miles of any given route. Luckily, drivers traveling between Manhattan and cities like Dallas, Texas, St. Louis, Mo., and Kansas City all pass over bridges deemed safe by inspections, and more importantly, these inspections are completed on time.

Riley County Commissioner Bob Newsome said

the recent fear of bridge safety “really is not an issue” in this area.

Newsome said states are mandated by law to inspect bridges every two years, which is typically what happens. The Bridge Tracker also supported this information as only 693 out of the 25,258 bridges in Kansas were not inspected on time. States like Hawaii and Rhode Island had nearly half their bridges past due for inspection.

Manhattan City Engineer Robert Ott said this year is an inspection year for Riley County bridges, and June 1 is the date “punch-cards” or lists of deficiencies in local bridges will make their way into planning for the upcoming year.

While the bridges in Manhattan are watched over by different government sectors – from the city to the Kansas Department of Transportation – the procedures for inspecting them is the same.

Ott said local consultant firms are hired to inspect the bridges. Local government agencies are involved, but the most efficient way to carry out inspections is to have these firms produce the final report because they have more experience and expertise.

Ott said keeping track of bridges is like balancing a checkbook. He said he does not see the sense in falsifying inspections or failing to have them done because, like a checking account, “it is better to know when things are bad” and fix them as quickly as time and money allow.

It could be about 20 years before all Riley County’s bridges are expected to be improved or replaced. Because of budgeting and manpower, it would be impossible to move any faster, Newsome said. A special committee also meets to evaluate bridges in Manhattan and Riley County and uses the findings to determine which bridges are of higher priority and repairs them as soon as possible.

Bridges over Wildcat Creek near Fort Riley Boulevard, South Manhattan Avenue and two on Anderson Avenue are undergoing some renovations and replacements. These improvements are occurring on a carefully planned timetable decided by maintenance personnel, city engineers and other officials. The city and county Web sites show approximately $700,000 is spent working on bridges and keeping drivers and residents safe each year.

Though residents are in safe hands when driving around Kansas, questions or concerns regarding the bridges in Riley County can be directed to 785-537-6330 for Riley County Public Works, 785-587-2415 for Manhattan City Public Works or to any city or county commissioner.

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