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City OKs Broadway bridge

After years of planning to replace the crumbling South Broadway bridge and numerous public meetings, the design and $14.2 million for the project were approved Tuesday by the Wichita City Council.

A number of options were considered for replacing the bridge that was built in 1938 and spans over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks near 34th Street. The council chose the one recommended by city engineers, which they call the "east alternative."

Work isn't expected to begin until 2012 and will take 12 to 13 months to complete, City Engineer Jim Armour said. Broadway is expected to be closed for only two to three months.

About $4.3 million will come from federal money.

The city will postpone other projects scheduled for this year to help pay for the new bridge, Armour said.

To help keep the cost down, the city is going with a shorter bridge than the current one, which stretches nearly 800 feet.

But to make that happen, the bridge will have a slight "S" shape just east of the current location.

About eight properties will need to be purchased to make room for the project, including a house in the 3500 block of south Topeka and owned by Lynn Behnke. She told the council the house has been in her family for five generations and has ties to the family of Buffalo Bill Mathewson and bootleggers.

Tim Campbell, Behnke's brother and the owner of nearby Campbell's Phoenix Greenhouse, said, "We're asking you to consider the history of this area before we smash it."

Interim council member Roger Smith, whose district includes the South Broadway area, said, "I do not like to see houses and businesses disrupted. But this boils down to public safety. Houses can be replaced."

Plans to do something with the bridge have been in the works since August 2007, when it was temporarily shut down because concrete was crumbling away.

Armour noted the bridge has the lowest sufficiency rating of the city's more than 250 bridges. The bridge has a 42.3 rating on a 100-point scale.

The sufficiency rating is the federal government's numerical rating used to calculate such factors as structural condition and traffic considerations. A bridge with a rating of 50 or less is eligible for federal funding for bridge replacement.

A similar bridge on North Broadway was replaced by the county seven or eight years ago, he said.

During construction, a temporary road will be built around the site and will have a grade-level approach to the railroad tracks. Signals will be put up. The railroad will also be asked to stage their trains about 5 miles farther south to avoid any long delays, Armour said. He said the railroad has indicated that wouldn't be a problem.

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