Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Federal Transportation Secretary to Visit ; Willard Bridge Topic of Discussion

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Federal Transportation Secretary to Visit ; Willard Bridge Topic of Discussion

Article excerpt

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx will meet with Shawnee County officials Wednesday morning to discuss the decaying Willard Bridge, according to U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran's office.

The senator's office said Monday that Moran arranged the meeting to take advantage of the transportation secretary's rare visit to Kansas. Foxx and Moran are scheduled to take part in a roundtable forum with aviation industry stakeholders Wednesday afternoon in the Wichita suburb of Park City.

Few details of the secretary's visit to Topeka have been released. The U.S. Department of Transportation confirmed Foxx will be in Kansas on Wednesday but offered no specifics.

Foxx's visit to Shawnee County comes at an auspicious time as the county competes with other municipalities across the country for a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant to replace the Willard Bridge.

The county has been forced to repeatedly lower the weight limit on the bridge in northwest Shawnee County. The bridge's sufficiency rating, which measures a bridge's fitness on a 0-100 scale, was above 61 until 2012. In 2013 it dropped to 50.7. In January, it was measured at 23.7.

Replacing the bridge is expected to cost about $24.4 million. If the county obtains a $16.7 TIGER grant, the county will use an expected $6 million surplus from a half-cent sales tax and about $1 million from Wabaunsee County to cover the difference.

With public angst building in Rossville and Silver Lake, communities connected to the rest of the county by the bridge, the county commission in February sent letters to Moran, U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts requesting their help in obtaining federal assistance. Five days later, during a March 3 hearing in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Moran pressed Foxx for details on how Shawnee County could find funding to replace the bridge.

"At this point, the bridge over the Kansas River is no longer structurally sound enough for school buses to ride over that bridge," Moran, a Republican, said in the hearing. …

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