Feedlot Road repair sparked by bridge closing

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News
A farmer on Tuesday afternoon travels a portion of Feedlot Road, two miles east of Ellis near 140th Avenue, that is often left flooded, muddy and rutted after even a light rain, according to locals.
Safety concerns about 101-year-old, single-lane 140th Avenue bridge, two miles east of Ellis, mean Ellis County plans to permanently close access to it.
Residents who use 140th Avenue bridge east of Ellis near Feedlot Road showed up Monday at the regular meeting of the Ellis County Commission to protest the planned closing of the 101-year-old, single-lane bridge.

A portion of Feedlot Road will get a facelift to fix the chronic flooding that often makes the two-lane chalk road impassable two miles east of Ellis.

The fix-up is called for after a handful of rural residents on Monday protested a vote by the Ellis County Commission to close a bridge on 140th Avenue, which is their only alternative route to Feedlot.

The commissioners voted to close the bridge March 1. Locals showed up at Monday’s regular commission meeting to say that they are forced to travel 140th after even light rains to avoid flooded, muddy Feedlot Road.

“My family and three other households use this bridge daily,” said Jim Pfeifer, who lives a half-mile north of the bridge, at the intersection of 140th and Feedlot. “What are we to do if a fire breaks out at our house or one of us needs medical attention and Feedlot Road is not suitable for travel?”

Vehicles often get stuck in the road and have to be pulled out, while others must rely on four-wheel-drive to get through, said Pfeifer, who was one of several residents who spoke Monday against the closing at the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main.

Safety

The commission in 2020 and previous years toured the county’s bridges and expressed safety concerns about the 101-year-old, single-lane bridge on 140th.

But after hearing from residents on Monday, commissioners Dean Haselhorst and Butch Schlyer asked Public Works Director Brendan MacKay to hold up on the closing, and instead report back on fixing Feedlot first.

 “Take a look at what it would cost to fix Feedlot Road,” Haselhorst said, agreeing that the county could wait temporarily on closing 140th. “See what you think, how many loads of rock, how many culverts.”

“And also a timeline on that too,” said Schlyer. “Even if we can get that road fixed up, we do have to make sure that bridge gets closed, just for public safety.”

Planned closing

Ellis County agreed in 2020 to permanently close the 140th bridge as part of receiving $150,000 in grant money from the Kansas Local Bridge Improvement Program.

That Kansas Department of Transportation program allows a 90%-10% cost share for road work. As part of the deal, the county gets an extra $50,000 if it removes a deficient bridge from the National Bridge Inventory.

The 140th Avenue bridge was rated structurally deficient in the county’s 2021 annual bridge report prepared by Penco Engineering of Plainville and presented to the commission March 1.

Built in 1920, the 140th Avenue bridge has a maximum load rating of 15 ton, according to the report. It’s due March 22 for its fraction critical inspection, at a cost of $1,900.

“If you don’t allow us to close it and block it off here in the next three weeks, we’ll have to pay Penco Engineering firm to come out and inspect it for us to close it later this year,” Mackay said at the March 1 meeting.

Closing it calls for leaving the bridge in place, with permanent concrete Lego block barricades and reflective signage at its north and south ends to stop anyone from driving across.

“Every farmer has a tractor, they can probably move it, if they decide to,” Mackay said. “But it’s not that someone can go by with a pickup truck and just drag it off into the ditch and go through it. That’d be our first step. If they’re moved continuously, then we’d have to weld beams across the bridge and drive piling in front of it.”

Not about the money

There are 10 bridges that have a worse sufficiency rating than the bridge on 140th, and nine that are the same, said Pfeifer.

”Why then is the bridge on 140th Avenue being targeted?” asked Pfeifer. “Is it due to the fact that this is the oldest bridge in Ellis County?”

The road is heavily used by rural mail carriers, UPS, Fedex and local farmers, he said.

Darryl Schuler, 1758 140th Avenue, lives just south of the bridge, and he said closing leaves the residents with only one access point, 150th Avenue.

“The only reason I can see closing the bridge is for the $50,000 you want to take from that and put it somewhere else,” Schuler said. “I haven’t seen any evidence or any proof that this bridge has been deemed unsafe or condemned.”

If heavy loads are the concern, he said, he suggested dropping the limit and leaving the bridge intact.

Schlyer in his comments, however, contested that portrayal.

“Commissioner Haselhorst, when we reviewed that bridge … we talked about safety issues,” Schlyer said. “As far as the $50,000 goes, that never even entered my mind.” 

Bridges normally have a life expectancy of 75 years, according to Bill Ring, who retired in January as public works director and who was part of the original review of the bridge. Ring answered commissioners’ questions about the 140th bridge at Monday’s meeting.

“What are the reasons, the recommendation’s it be closed?” asked Schlyer.

“Because it’s considered fraction critical,” Ring said. “If any member underneath it breaks, the bridge will fall in. It’s 101 years old right now, and looking at a replacement, to start, would be a million and a half dollars.”

“So it’s for safety?” Schlyer asked.

“Yes,” Ring replied, adding, “You can’t fix it, there’s no way you can beef it up. You can’t repair it. You can’t add steel to it. If somebody drives over it with an overloaded wheat truck, which we know happens all the time, and they go through it, well yeah they’re going to be responsible for it, but we could kill somebody.” 

“That bridge could fracture, and no one would be aware of it until it actually fell down,” said Schlyer.

“That’s correct,” Ring said.

Replacing the bridge, with the cost of buying added right-of-way, could cost Ellis County taxpayers as much as $2.5 million, said Ring.

“There’s no money from the feds or the state to build a new bridge,” said Ring.

Bridge ratings

“Why do some of our older bridges have a higher rating than some of our newer ones?” asked Haselhorst at the March 1 meeting.

“Sufficiency rating is based on a complex formula that doesn’t just take in account age,” said Penco’s Jordan Dettmer, presenting the 2020 bridge report. He noted ratings look at roadway width, available load capacity, and many other factors, including any deck repairs and patches that have been made, or whether it’s a timber structure as opposed to iron.

“The feds are trying to move people away from sufficiency rating and functionally obsolete categories, and they’re focusing on what’s called good, fair, poor,” Dettmer said. “I added a table this year into your guys’ bridge inspection report that ranks the bridges based off of condition rating, instead of just off sufficiency rating.”