Nerves of Steel

By all accounts, Kansas City is the only place in the world that covers up holes in its streets with 8-foot-by-12-foot, 3,000-pound, inch-thick steel plates and leaves them on the asphalt forever.

Whose ass is at fault? On April 4, Mayor Kay Barnes convened a ServiceFirst meeting with the water- and street-department brain trusts to try to get them to answer that question once and for all. Well, maybe not — the breakfast meeting’s time ran out before the metal-plate perpetrators were finished with their presentation, so Her Honor is making them come back April 18. “Let’s wait,” she said. “I don’t want to ruin my appetite.”

Here’s a taste of the bad news that awaits her: The street department estimates at least 380 of the loathsome slabs are defiling streets all over town. (Though even that number is hard to swallow; your KC Stripper careened over no fewer than thirteen of them on the ten-minute drive from her house to City Hall that very morning.) City staffers often argue that private utility companies use the goddamned things, too, but it turns out that the vast majority — 62 percent — are the water department’s. (Telecom companies burden us with only 8 percent of them, KCPL a mere 2 percent.) The city has a $580,000 investment in steel plates and devotes two full-time employees solely to moving them around day in and day out.

Why must we suffer? Last week, city staffers’ no-shit response was that they use the plates so traffic can keep flowing during the many seasons it takes workers to finish street repairs. “We could get crews to schedule their work better — to focus, so they stay there until it’s finished before running off to respond to emergencies,” admitted the water department’s Ron Goold. “We’re working on that.”

A half dozen steel plates have been scattered across the 12th Street Bridge for “five years, easy,” says the street department’s Steve Barquist. They’re serving as “bridges” over parts of the bridge that have fallen apart. “It’s not really a structural problem,” he says, comfortingly. “But the only way to fix it is to rebuild the bridge.” That’s on the city’s to-do list, but Barquist doesn’t know when it’ll happen.

Meanwhile, we await the mayor’s request for someone’s head on a metal platter.

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