Elections

Bridge's path in question

The Wichita City Council will decide between displacing businesses or a historic house next week when it takes up a proposal for replacing a South Broadway bridge.

The District 3 Advisory Board faced contentious arguments over what to do about the 80-year-old bridge from about 50 residents Monday night.

The board voted 4-3 to recommend an option that would affect a house in the 3500 block of South Topeka that may have ties to bootleggers and the family of Buffalo Bill Mathewson, according to the family who has lived there for five generations.

The vote for what engineers termed the "east alternative" — which would curve the bridge in a slight "S" shape east of the current location — proved to be the option many of the residents at Monday's meeting opposed.

But an option that would have shifted the replacement bridge to the west would have displaced more businesses.

"We have a tough decision ahead of us," said City Council member Roger Smith, who represents the South Broadway area.

Smith was one of the four who voted for the east option, which City Engineer Jim Armour said would cost less and affect the fewest businesses. That would cost about $12.3 million and provide an alternative route for Broadway traffic. It would close down Broadway for only a couple of months, Armour said.

Armour said the state would have to decide what to do with the house where Gene Campbell grew up, which his family said was built for the daughter of Buffalo Bill Mathewson and has secret rooms that served as bootleggers' hideouts during Prohibition.

"It still has a bullet hole in the door, put there by I guess it was the marshal, looking for the bootleggers," Campbell said.

What Armour termed the "west alternative" would cost some $2.3 million more.

Other plans would have cost as much as $22 million and shut traffic on Broadway down for a year or more.

Armour said, however, that fixing the current bridge, built in 1938, wasn't an option — though it was the choice of most in attendance Monday.

The bridge was repaired in 2007 and has again become at risk of failing, the engineer said.

"This is something we need to do," said south Wichita resident Jenny Morris. "This is not something we should leave our grandchildren to deal with."

Armour plans to present the council with the plan at its Feb. 15 meeting.

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