TOPEKA (KSNT) – Shawnee County Commissioners approved new weight restrictions on the Willard Bridge connecting Rossville and Willard, a critical access over the Kansas River.
The action today limits loads to nine tone for two-axle vehicles, 15 tons for vehicles with three axles and 27 tons for vehicle combinations using more than three axles. Put another way, the bridge is open to cars, pick-up trucks and small trucks. The action would prohibit big rigs, large farm vehicles and regular sized school busses from crossing the bridge. Emergency vehicles would be exempted from the weight limits.
The action was taken in an effort to prolong the life of the 60-year old bridge which most agrees needs to be replaced, but for which there’s no immediate money to actually do the job.
County Public Works Director Tom Vlach says replacing the bridge would run about $24.6 million dollars. Design work could be done by summer but the period to obtain the necessary permits and approvals means the project could not begin until at least 2016.
The county plans to use a portion of the Local Option Sales Tax extension approved by voters last November to pay for the project in addition to other funds, but the county doesn’t start collecting that money until 2017. It hopes to start committing funds form any overflow of the current sales tax and any other state or federal money it can find.
Commissioners, however, remain concerned that those who frequently use the bridge won’t pay attention to the new restrictions.
While the local school district says they’ll begin using smaller busses in order to meet the new weight requirements, Commissioner Kevin Cook voiced his frustration at those who continue to take farm equipment and heavy trucks over the bridge.
“”Yes lowering the limit is what we need to do,” said Commissioner Shelly Buhler who lives in Rossville “but putting up bars is a possibility, stronger fines is another possibility, cameras there shooting license plates, that sort of thing,” may be required for enforcement.
Vlach voiced concerns about installing height bars across the entrances to the bridge to stop big trucks, saying there’s no place for the large trucks to turn around and should a vehicle be damaged by a restrictive bar the county could potentially beheld liable for that damage.
“Liability or not,” said Cook, we need to put up some barriers to stop this heavy load equipment from going across. And that may be the only way to stop it.”
The restrictions went into effect immediately following Thursday’s meeting.