Public-private partnership not feasible for bridge project

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

It looks like a public-private partnership is not feasible for constructing a second bridge across the Missouri River in Leavenworth County.

Leavenworth County commissioners discussed what has been referred to as the Eastern Gateway project when they met Wednesday.

The proposed project would connect a roadway in Leavenworth County with Missouri 152 Highway in Platte County, Missouri, through the construction of a bridge across the Missouri River.

An initial concept study performed by the engineering firm TranSystems indicated the project could cost more than $250 million.

Commissioners had looked at the possibility of a public-private partnership as a way of paying for the project.

Late last year, commissioners authorized a feasibility study by a company called Arup. To help with the study, commissioners in January authorized paying TranSystems to provide information related to things such as projected traffic volumes and possible tolling revenue.

"All of that data is in," County Administrator Mark Loughry said. "The analysis is back."

He said the data does not support a public-private partnership.

"The private side of this is probably done," he said.

But Loughry said county officials will continue to look for sources of government funding for the project. He suggested federal funding could become available if Congress approves an infrastructure bill.

Bill Noll, director of infrastructure and construction services for the county, said one of the issues that impacted the analysis regarding a public-private partnership was concern about the public's willingness to pay a toll for the bridge.

He said TranSystems used public input that previously was collected in relation to the idea of tolling a replacement of the existing Centennial Bridge.

Noll also said the projected increased traffic over the next 30 to 50 years was extremely low.

Noll said there were differing opinions among Arup and TranSystems officials regarding at least some of the data. But he said Arup had to rely on the information it was provided.

"I don't know if it's accurate, but I don't know how we get around that data," Loughry said.

He recommended against doing another study for traffic analysis. He said this would appear as though commissioners will continue to pay for studies until they receive the results they want.

"But right now, with the data we have, this project is going nowhere as far as a public-private partnership," Loughry said.

Commission Chairman Mike Smith said the project may have to be put on the shelf but he does not want it to go away.

"Maybe the time is not right," he said.

Commissioner Jeff Culbertson argued the project is hindered by a small group of people who are against a second Missouri River bridge in Leavenworth County.

"That's what this is about," he said.

When asked after the meeting about the identity of this group, Culbertson said, "I have my idea, but I couldn't tell you exactly."

He said the group is heavily tied to the Centennial Bridge.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR

In other business

The Leavenworth County Commission:

• Met behind closed doors in executive session for about 25 minutes to consult with legal counsel about pending litigation.