While seven of Ellis County’s more than 200 bridges are in poor condition, they don’t need closed, but new heavy vehicles will force weight limits on more of them in coming years.

“My estimate right now is that 50 to 60 percent of the bridges that we inspect will have to be posted some way or another,” said civil engineer Jordan Dettmer with Penco Engineering, Plainville, who inspected the county’s bridges in November 2018. “You guys are currently at 21.2 percent of your bridges are posted. So that will double; something to be aware.”

Kansas Department of Transportation requires the inspections every two years. In a report Monday evening at the regular meeting of the Ellis County Commission, Penco’s Dettmer referenced a new federal standard that defines a structurally deficient bridge as one having a deck, superstructure, substructure or culvert in poor condition.

“A lot of times older structures don’t low-rate out as well,” Dettmer told the commissioners. “They were designed 100 years ago when things weren’t as heavy… But the thing that’s happening now, the federal government is coming out with new regulations on postings, and low ratings, and bridge signage.”

While the feds are still working out the details, he said, the changes are driven by special-haul vehicles and emergency vehicles, like heavy fire trucks.

The trucks are so heavy, with heavy axle groups, that while a lot of bridges might handle legal truck loads just fine, they’ll have to be posted with weight limits for emergency vehicles, Dettmer said.

“A lot of the bridges in Ellis County that don’t have weight limit signs as of today, that’s going to be required in the future,” he said. “It’s going to be an issue in the next three to five years.”

With so many old bridges in the county, Dettmer said there are among them a few bad decks and some bad substructures.

Public Works Director Bill Ring told the commissioners the situation calls for county crews to continue to keep a close eye on bridges.

“It isn’t like we need to worry about closing a bridge tomorrow or anything,” Ring said. “But it does point out that continued maintenance is extremely important … You never know when the shoelace is going to break, and it usually happens at the worst time.”

Ring said he’s applied for funding from KDOT to replace the Cottonwood Bridge in Ellis as drivers head out toward the pumpkin patch on 15th Street.

“As much as that needs it, what they call the sufficiency rating of the bridge, it’s still not quite low enough to get us to the front of the line with KDOT,” Ring said.

Similarly, the single-lane country bridge on 140th Avenue will be 110 years old, but it’s still in decent condition, he said.

“The only ones we continue to get calls on, because of the ride on it, is the bridge on the Ellis blacktop, over the river, it’s a rough riding bridge,” Ring said. “Structurally, we don’t want it to get much worse.”

Dettmer said the county has two bridges with decks that are pretty bad, including the Palco blacktop bridge south of the county line, and some ratings were lowered to reflect deterioration since the last inspection.

“You guys have had a very wet year, and there are a lot of old structures with masonry abutments, or masonry arches,” Dettmer said. “Those took a beating from the freeze-thaw cycles and moisture leakage, so there’s two stone arches that we bumped down from five to four. And there are three, shorter steel stringer bridges, one’s a slab, and those had pretty substantial stone deterioration.”

Also Monday evening:

• The commissioners went into executive session for 15 minutes with Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees to discuss potential litigation. No action was taken after the executive session.

• The commissioners unanimously appointed Environmental Associate Mason Ruder to the position of interim administrator for the county’s Environmental Office. The appointment is for a period of not more than one month, and during that time his salary will increase 10 percent to $18.18 an hour.

Ruder is stepping in to the job to replace Karen Purvis, who was environmental sanitarian/zoning administrator. Purvis retired March 29. While the increase in pay adds more than $265 to the budget, Ring said there will likely be net savings due to the vacancy of the environmental sanitarian/zoning administrator position.

• The commission also unanimously approved selling an acre of land to Stephen and Fran Robben of Victoria for $800. Ring said the acre doesn’t show up anywhere in any county records or inventory, other than a warranty deed from 1932, showing the county purchased it for $50. The Robbens purchased the acre at auction recently as part of a 320-acre parcel. Their title company discovered the county owned the southwest corner of the half section.