Hopes to preserve Katy drawbridge still linger

The Coast Guard has directed Union Pacific to remove a bridge crossing the Missouri River that hasn't been used for rail traffic in more than 20 years. An area coalition hopes the bridge can be converted to handle pedestrian and bicycle traffic on the Katy Trail.
Sunday, September 7, 2008 | 6:34 p.m. CDT; updated 12:08 p.m. CST, Friday, February 12, 2010

BOONVILLE — The U.S. Coast Guard has scheduled a public meeting for later this month to review plans to remove a drawbridge that spans the Missouri River.
The meeting, scheduled for Sept. 30 at the Isle of Capri Casino, is expected to draw dozens of people still hoping to preserve the structure.
The Coast Guard directed bridge owner Union Pacific to remove the bridge. The bridge has not been used for rail traffic since 1986, and the Coast Guard considers any unused bridge an obstruction, said Roger Wiebusch, a bridge administrator for the Coast Guard.
Over the years, the Coast Guard has not pressed hard for removal because of the possibility the bridge could be used for bike and pedestrian traffic. It is currently not accessible, because one end of it was removed and the other is blocked off.
Last fall, a Missouri appeals court upheld a lower court decision allowing Union Pacific to tear down the bridge.
Attorney General Jay Nixon appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, which declined in February to hear the case. Nixon argued that the state could take over the bridge for the Katy Trail. He sued the state Department of Natural Resources because it agreed to allow Union Pacific to remove the bridge.
A group called the Save the Katy Bridge Coalition has tried for years to make the bridge part of the Katy Trail, which goes from St. Charles to Clinton. Boonville is the only Missouri River crossing of the Katy Trail, which passes over a highway bridge there.
The rail bridge would be a safer, more pleasant and more scenic crossing, said Paula Shannon, chairwoman of the coalition. The setting is quiet, save for the sound of birds and of the river below, she said.
“It’s a sensational feeling when you are out there,” Shannon said. “It’s breathtaking, truly.”
Shannon said her group had raised about $480,000 to help cover the cost of renovating the bridge deck for foot and bicycle traffic. The estimated cost of the work has ranged from $1 million to $2 million, she said. Bicyclists, nature lovers and bridge historians are among people from all over the country to donate to the project, she said.
Shannon said the coalition had not given up trying to save the bridge, despite the losses in court.
Shannon said negotiations continued with the Coast Guard and Union Pacific, which she hopes will donate the bridge to the city as part of a renovation plan. Union Pacific offered that in the past but now wants to dismantle the bridge and use its steel spans in a new bridge on the Osage River.
The Coast Guard would not object to keeping the bridge as a trail, but unless that happens, the order to remove it stands, Wiebusch said. The public hearing is required under federal rules before further steps are taken.

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