The Washington Avenue Bridge Conspiracy isn’t so much a plot against Sedalians who live north of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks as it is a wrongly perceived slight perpetuated by a handful of residents.
The 102-year-old bridge was closed in December 2011 after being found structurally unsound. Original repair estimates ranged from $875,000 to $1 million, with a timetable of about a year and a half to complete the work. After further examination, the cost projection jumped to $2 million; but the bids came in at $1.2 million, and on Wednesday, Sedalia Public Works Director Bill Beck told Democrat reporter Emily Jarrett that the work is expected to run the city around $1.26 million.
Project manager Sean Killian, with L. Krupp Construction, is confident the work will be complete in October — roughly still in the year-and-a-half time frame that was projected when the bridge was closed.
City manager Gary Edwards told me: “Since the early stages of design, we thought it was possible we could be completed by fall of 2013. That has stayed the case through the long design process, and as of the last report we had, they are still saying the fall of this year.”
So, to recap: The bridge will be completed when the city said it would, for less money than the city feared it would cost.
Oh, I can still hear the nay-sayers — “The city didn’t make the bridge a priority. They started working on the new fire station before they did anything with the bridge. Property and lives on the north side are endangered as long as the bridge is out, because if a train stops and blocks Ohio and Engineer avenues, it will take too long for police/fire/
ambulance to arrive.”
The bridge has been a priority for the city since the day it was closed. When it comes to the schedule, critics ignore many factors in the process, including the time it took to evaluate the condition of the existing bridge and its piers, designing a span that will work in the existing space and within current mandates, and dealing with safety and clearance issues related to the railroad, since the bridge goes over its right of way.
“The problem with the project, the complexity of it, is there are a lot of unknowns,” Killian told me. “It was built in 1911; we won’t know the exact measurements until we get everything torn off of it. ... Once you tear one thing down, you’ve got measurements, you have to verify all the elevations and grades, order your steel, wait for your steel to come in, then install it — as opposed to a brand new bridge, where everything is set in stone. ... You’re going along at a very slow rate.”
Adding to that is dealing with train traffic.
“Every time a train comes, you have to be off the tracks 20 minutes beforehand and any equipment or people in the right of way have to move off the track,” Killian said, noting that his supervisor counted five trains passing in the course of an hour one day. “You might not be able to work for an hour, that is going to be a big problem right there.”
Edwards said precautions must be taken whenever you are dealing with bridge work, “but it becomes double the challenge when it is over a railroad. ... We have to address their concerns, which is a reason to be very careful with the design.”
Still, Edwards and others are confident Killian’s crew will complete the bridge on time.
“Beginning the work is, in a way, not as important as the completion date. The important time is when it opens, not when work begins,” Edwards said. “That deadline has been pretty consistent.”
After Wednesday’s pre-construction meeting among city officials and representatives of Olsson Associates, which designed the bridge, and Krupp, Mayor Elaine Horn said: “We have a great crew assembled. They are all professionals, they know their job, they are very excited about (building the bridge) and I have every confidence they will stay on track or maybe be ahead of schedule, weather permitting.”
But with the bridge closed for more than a year, what has been the impact on residents? Have emergency responders been delayed at any time to the point that a resident or their property was endangered?
“I am not aware of a single issue that has created a problem with the bridge being closed — no safety issues, no problems whatsoever,” Horn said.
Sedalia Fire Department Chief Mike Ditzfeld echoed Horn’s comments.
“There have been minimal instances where we were slightly delayed by trains on the track,” he said.
For structure fires, the department sends responders from different directions. For a call to the city’s north side, Ditzfeld sends a unit from the 16th Street station north on U.S. Highway 65 to Ohio Avenue, where it heads into the city from the north side. Two other vehicles respond from the Hancock Avenue station; if the first truck encounters a train on the tracks, the other unit takes an alternative route.
“There has never been a time when all three responders were blocked,” Ditzfeld said.
But Doug Briscoe, director of APSI, which provides ambulance service in the city, said the bridge closure “has been a problem for us,” especially for calls on the city’s northeast side. He noted that if a stopped train blocks Engineer and Ohio avenues, the only way to get across the tracks is to head west to U.S. 65.
“It’s hard to quantify, to say for sure that it made a situation worse, but it’s safe to say any unnecessary delay makes things worse,” Briscoe said. “Whether it’s five minutes or five seconds, you’re making a patient worse. It’s tough to prove that for sure ... but common sense tells you it’s not good.”
He added: “Let me just say this: A train is never a problem when it is moving, but when it is stopped and blocks the whole town, that creates the problem.”
I spoke with Ditzfeld during Thursday’s winter storm that dumped more than nine inches of snow on the city.
“The delays we’ve had today are more than any we had from a train blocking a track,” the chief said. “A lot of things delay emergency services — weather, traffic. We try really hard to meet our response time standards (of three to five minutes). ... We have no record of a delay that affected an outcome.”