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SPECIAL: The Safety Gap - How safe are the bridges we travel on? - KOAM TV 7

SPECIAL: The Safety Gap - How safe are the bridges we travel on?

Updated:

By ELIZABETH MATTHEWS

PITTSBURG, KAN. - A mother is pushing for Crawford County to update bridge infrastructure.

Amy Marrs claims an old county bridge is the reason her son is dead.

"This is bridge is extremely dangerous," says Marrs.  "The bridge is largely the reason why our son is no longer with us."

Crawford County has hundreds of bridges and is capable of rebuilding only a couple every year.

County Commissioner Ralph McGeorge says none of the county's bridges are "deadly."

Marrs says the county has been asked to renovate the bridge in the past and has failed to put up new types of guard rails that help absorb impact.

"They still don't require us to put them on there, but it's a thing that we are trying to work on to get these bridges in a safe manner," Commissioner McGeorge says.

Brandon Engelken was 17 when he crashed into a bridge in the summer of 2008.  He was driving drunk and hit a cement rail on Quincy Street just off Highway 69 outside of Pittsburg.

Brandon's mother, Amy, is disappointed her son was drinking and driving.

"That was very unfortunate, there's nothing to excuse that, but he just as easily could have lost control with a deer running out of a ditch in front of that bridge or reaching for something," Amy Marrs tells us.  "There are many reasons why people have accidents and bridges are built to save lives not kill people."

Marrs is determined to make bridges safer by pushing for guardrails that give on impact.

"The impact when our son hit the bridge was so severe that the bridge - the cement rail lodged in the front of his pickup," Marrs says.

The MedFlight manager at St. John's Regional Medical Center, Rod Pace, says new guardrails help transfer the energy to the metal and not to the vehicle occupants.

"Some of the older designed guardrails probably led to more significant injuries," Pace says.

In March, Marrs appealed to county commissioners to install guardrails on the Quincy Street bridge.

The commissioner minutes from the meeting says:

"The commissioners expressed their condolences to Mr. & Mrs. Marrs and discussed that the county had received recommendations from KDOT and they were unsure why the concrete rails had not been replaced with the metal guardrails."

County Commissioner Ralph McGeorge says fellow commissioner Bob Kmiec could not give a reason as to why concrete rails were still part of the bridge.

"He can't give an explanation why they didn't take it down," McGeorge says.

Commissioner Kmiec refused to speak to KOAM about the bridge that is in his district.  But at the commissioners meeting Kmiec spoke directly to Marrs saying he did not know why the concrete guardrail was still there.

After bringing the issue to the county commissioners attention the county sought help from the Kansas Department of Transportation.

"That concrete is fairly unforgiving in a situation like that - we would try to put some guardfence on it," says KDOT engineer George Dockery.

Dockery says Crawford County has two options if it wants to do something with the bridge on Quincy Street:

  • Replace it - which would cost $250,000
  • Update it to state standards - a cost of $75,000

"It's very disturbing to know that the county that you live in and pay taxes in failed to follow a recommendation from KDOT and make that bridge safer, and it was to our son's demise," Marrs says.

Since Brandon's death the county has done some work on the bridge, but Marrs says it is not enough.

"I was happy on one hand to see the cement rails were gone because they are so deadly but I was completely shocked that all that was done that they were taken away and sign reflectors put up with no guardrails," Marrs says.  "Anybody could drive down the road and hit that culvert and just fly off into the creek and hit the trees.  There's nothing to stop anybody."

Crawford County does have a five year plan which includes replacing three bridges.

With a little federal financial help the county will split the construction costs.

There are still no plans for the Quincy Street bridge.

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