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Consultant advises county on proposed project for Devils Elbow bridge repair
Consultant advises county on proposed project for Devils Elbow bridge repair

Bridge consultant James Kempker explains options for financing repair of the Devil's Elbow Bridge.
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Feb. 24, 2010) — Restoring and repairing the historic Devil’s Elbow Bridge on the original alignment of Route 66 has been a major goal of Eastern District Commissioner Bill Farnham. At Monday’s Pulaski County Commission meeting, commissioners met with James Kempker of S&B Consultants regarding bridge issues and possible ways to obtain the needed money to save a piece of Route 66 history

A major part of the problem, Farnham said, is that BRO money — funds provided by the Missouri Department of Transportation for bridges and roads that are off the state-owned road system and maintained instead by cities and counties — has been severely cut back due to economic problems.

“We’ve been struggling and struggling trying to find money when they took that BRO money away from us,” Farnham said. “Do you guys work on your own or do you ever partner with other engineering firms?”

Kempker said his company usually works on its own, and noted that it’s important for county personnel to get expert advice on major bridge work before trying to do repairs.

“One of the counties decided to fix (a bridge) on their own but they half-assed it, and then five or ten years down the road it needed to be repaired again and they couldn’t get help because they’d recently worked on it,” Kempker said.

That won’t be a problem in Pulaski County, Farnham said.

“This isn’t a bridge any of us could work on,” Farnham said, noting that cost estimates show the bridge work will be a $1.6 million job, with about a half-million of that being actual repair costs and the remainder being needed refurbishing.

“We just received a quarter-million-dollar grant; we’ve got enough to get started,” Farnham said.

That’s a very high cost estimate, Kempker said.

“I’m kind of surprised it would be so much,” he said, noting that a a 600-foot-long bridge in another county was $1.3 million.

However, Kempker said he understood that specific problems can greatly increase costs.

“When you get into repairing an existing structure, that is kind of a specialty trade,” Kempker said.

Responding to questions, Farnham said he wants to preserve rather than replace the Devil’s Elbow Bridge if possible because it sits on Old Route 66 and many tourists visit it.

County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer asked if Pulaski County would run into problems if it commits to using state-provided BRO funds that don’t get received in future years.

“The thing is if you commit for the next three years, you commit funds you may not be getting,” Linnenbringer said.

That’s possible but unlikely, Kempker said.

“Once you commit the funds they are a lot less likely to take it away,” Kempker said.

Farnham said MoDOT representative Rick Pilcher agreed with that evaluation.

“(He said) if we had obligated that money they would not have taken it,” Farnham said.

Kempker said he trusts Pilcher’s recommendations, noting that he has been helpful on many other projects.

“He has a lot of connections and knows a lot of ways to get things done,” Kempker said.

In other grant business, Linnenbringer said a grant for law enforcement has become a problem.

“We’re still trying to draw down funds from the three grants,” Linnenbringer said, noting that in a number of cases, state funds had not yet been made available for transfer.

“They wouldn’t give me a date as to when; I had tried to ask, ‘When can we anticipate we can draw these funds down?’” Linnenbringer said. “I said to them, ‘You need to understand our frustration here, we are doing this because we have been told we had been awarded this grant, we hired these people, we paid them up front and now we can’t use the funds.’”

That’s not acceptable, said Presiding Commissioner Don McCulloch, who is a former county sheriff and Waynesville police chief who is used to working with grant funds for law enforcement.

“They just said, ‘Good luck?’” McCulloch asked.

That’s essentially it, Linnenbringer said, but she noted that state officials also appear to be frustrated with the problems.

According to Linnenbringer, the county’s fund balances in some lines are now seriously out of balance due to paying newly hired personnel, but that should resolve itself if the grant money arrives later as expected.

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