Archive for Wednesday, June 13, 2007

City Council mulls options to alleviate bridge woes

June 13, 2007

The city is looking at more options to help emergency vehicles get from Fourth Street to Washington Street, but city engineers said there's still going to be at least a nine-month wait before a direct route will be possible.

Officials at Monday's Tonganoxie City Council meeting discussed options for either replacing the Pleasant Street bridge or finding an alternate route for emergency vehicles.

A recent inspection led officials to place a 5-ton weight limit on the Pleasant Street bridge, which means the structure is off limits to fire engines and ambulances.

Among the council's options is seeking federal money to pay for a replacement bridge. A federal grant can pay up to 80 percent of the total cost of replacement and save the city thousands of dollars, but it means waiting until 2010 before any funding would be available.

"Our question is really one of time than it is of funding," Council President Jason Ward said.

Dan Harden of BG Consultants talked to the council about replacing the bridge without federal funding, which he said would be faster because the city could move at its own pace -- and it may even be cheaper.

"As bridge projects go this is a relatively inexpensive bridge project," Harden said.

From his experience, not involving the federal government can cut development costs because "there's a whole bunch of federal law you don't have to comply with when you are not using federal money," Harden said.

Harden nevertheless advised the council to apply for the federal funding. Doing such would not force the city into any agreement to use federal money, but would still keep the process going in case the city chose that option.

East Street option

Besides replacing the bridge, another option is to develop East Street for emergency vehicles to use.

City Superintendent Butch Rodgers submitted a probable project cost for the work needed to create an emergency access route on East Street between Fourth and Seventh streets: $327,221.

"What we looked at with Butch was how much street we could construct without wasting any of those materials in the future," said Brian Kingsley, an engineer with BG Consultants.

One problem with building an emergency route via East Street is that some of the money put into the project will be lost in work and materials that will have to be redone when the city develops the street in 2009. The other problem is that the city will have to wait just as long to get the state permits to construct the emergency route on East Street as it would take to get the permits to rebuild the Pleasant Street bridge.

In the best-case scenario, the city would be looking at around a month before any permits would be given.

"We can try to hand-carry permits with Division of Water Resources, but the shortest path, even if they get right on it, would be 30 to 45 days. And sometimes the harder you push those state agencies, the farther down the pile you go," Kingsley said.

Steve Gumm and other council members didn't see why a temporary road should be built instead of a new bridge if both would take the same time.

"East Street won't be done any faster than Pleasant Street; it doesn't solve anything," Gumm said.

To help the council decide on which project to work on, Harden gave some advice from his experience as a project manager. He suggested the city apply for permits for both streets and wait to see which gets approved first.

The permits would have a long enough life-span that the city could begin work on one project and use the permit for the other project later.

Matter at hand

And there's still the matter of getting emergency vehicles to Washington Street.

In the inspection report presented to the council, the Church Street bridge was given a higher weight rating than the Pleasant Street bridge. Church Street bridge's 9-ton rating would allow for bigger commuter vehicles to cross the creek, but it would still not allow any fire department vehicles.

"We need to do something. I mean, it's very important that we get to the south end with emergency vehicles," Mayor Mike Vestal said.

Last week, Fire Chief Dave Bennett proposed an idea to city staff and Vestal where the firefighters would be moved to a 24-hour shift.

This would mean one firefighter would remain at the station and drive the large trucks to the scene of the fire. During the extra time it takes to get the large truck to the fire, other firefighters would be getting ready and then take the department's SUV to the fire.

Bennett said such a scenario could cut 3.5 to 4 minutes from firefighters' response time to the fire.

"Is it ideal for a firefighter to jump in a fire truck by himself and respond to a fire? No it is not," Bennett said. "It is something we are willing to do; look at the fair labor standard acts and make sure we are in compliance with that."

Bennett said under no circumstances would a firefighter take on an interior fire by himself.

"I'm going to have to change my standard operating guidelines because I am not going to let that firefighter do any kind of interior structure fire by himself. You just don't do that," Bennett said.

Another problem with switching to a 24-hour shift is the current pay structure, which only allows for 40 hours per week. The city would have to pay a lot more in overtime unless it switched the pay structure to allow for the 24-hour shifts.

For now, the council is waiting on more information from the city superintendent and city engineers before making a final decision. The council plans to take as much of that information as possible before determining the 2008 budget.

A budget work session is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, June 18.

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