Even though they’re large and in some cases bright bronze, you might not notice them as you drive by. Slow down a little, and you’ll see that bridges in Sedgwick County boast handsome commemorative plaques.
These plaques serve a useful purpose. They display essential information such as the name of the bridge, the year of its construction, the bridge’s inventory number, and the load standard to which the bridge was built.
But the rest of the information, particularly the names of the county commissioners, is superfluous. It may even be harmful, as commissioners or other public officials who know their names will be prominently displayed on public works may call for design or aesthetic features beyond what is actually required.
If you look at bridges built by other agencies, you’ll see they have much smaller markers that display only the essential information.
The county public works department told me that the plaques are “subsidiary” pay items, meaning that the bridge contractor is required to provide the plaques, and there is no line item that details their cost. In answering my questions, the department contacted a local vendor who makes similar plaques, and they’re estimated to cost $500 each.
There are two plaques on all the bridges that I examined, for a cost of $1,000 per bridge. Since all bidders for a bridge project face roughly the same cost to provide these plaques, this is a cost passed directly to county taxpayers.
Why does the county spend so much on plaques for bridges that, in some cases, are barely longer than they are wide? It’s a small matter — sort of like a few extra sprinkles on the icing of a cake — but these issues are symbolic of government’s attitude towards costs, and of some officials’ view of their own self-importance.