Most people don’t realize how long a bridge project takes. I didn’t entirely know what is involved in planning a bridge until now. A typical bridge replacement takes an average of three years from conception to completion.

We usually know ahead of time when we are going to build or replace a bridge. A lot of planning begins years before traffic is actually shut down. In the beginning stages, we might do a feasibility study, surveys or go out for bid to get an engineering firm to design a bridge. We go out for bid to select a builder, acquire any right-of-way or necessary easements, locate and move utilities that might be in the way, contact land owners, do environmental studies in some cases or hydrology reports especially dealing with FEMA or KDWR and go out for bid on materials. Contractors have to mobilize and demolition plans have to be coordinated. Materials have to be delivered on site and ready to go.

All this is done before traffic is closed, so the local traveler doesn’t notice the bridge closed for more than the last couple months of actual construction.

We get bridges inspected every two years to make sure we know when one will need replaced. The last inspection on Millwood Bridge indicated we had about 10 more years before we had to worry about replacing it. But this last winter was a 50-year event causing more harsh conditions than we have seen in a while. The combination of the bridge’s age, design, unusually cold temperatures freezing and thawing the components of the bridge, coupled with heavy traffic, big trucks and farm machinery all took a toll on this bridge and caused a fracture.  

One cold morning after sub-zero temperatures, a hole formed in the deck of the bridge. We sent inspectors to check on it and determined the bridge was unsafe for travel. We did not want to risk damage or injury to someone or their vehicle. Understanding this would create a huge inconvenience for local travel, we still felt the risk outweighed the consequences.

To that point, I have asked that we create a map of all the bridges in the county that would create a huge inconvenience if they were to be shut down. Most bridges would only create a half mile detour if they closed. But I want to earmark all the bridges, like Millwood, that would create an extra long travel time to go around. This way we can inspect those important bridges more often or more thoroughly and prevent a similar situation from happening to any other bridge in the future.

Some of the extra time to completion is also because I want to make the new bridge better. I want to raise the approach three feet higher than the old bridge so that it will almost never be closed when Stranger Creek floods.  If we have to fix it, let’s fix it right. But this is taking some extra steps dealing with FEMA. When Highway 192 in Easton closes due to high water, we want to be able to go around on Millwood Road.

The project is long, and I understand it is very inconvenient, but it is still on schedule to open by next August in time for the new school year. Just wanted you to know we are working on it as fast as possible. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

P.S. I wanted to build a dam instead of a bridge but they wouldn’t let me make Lake Easton.

Editor’s note: Jeff Culbertson is a member of the Leavenworth County Commission.