JEFFERSON CITY History buffs and bicyclists who have long sought to save a rusty old railroad bridge as part of a state recreation trail could have a new reason for optimism as a result of the federal economic stimulus package.
The Missouri Department of Transportation is applying this month for $27 million in stimulus funds to construct a new steel railroad bridge over the Osage River east of Jefferson City.
In a roundabout way, that could help preserve the Depression-era Katy Railroad bridge that crosses the Missouri River at Boonville, about 50 miles to the northwest.
The Katy bridge, which was last used by trains when Ronald Reagan was president, was going to be torn down and recycled for use in a new Osage River bridge. But if the state wins federal money to build the Osage River bridge from scratch, there may no longer be an economic reason to dismantle the Katy bridge.
In that case, "my hope is that both Union Pacific and the state of Missouri would see the value of allowing us to develop the MKT bridge as part of the Katy Trail," said Sarah Gallagher, president of the Save the Katy Bridge Coalition.
Katy Trail State Park is a 225-mile biking and hiking trail that follows the old route of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Co., commonly known as the Katy Railroad. The trail currently diverts from its historic rail-bed path to a nearby highway bridge to cross the Missouri River at Boonville.
Bridge supporters already have fought for five years in the courts, federal regulatory agencies and negotiations to try to save the Katy bridge. So far, they have lost.
Because the 77-year-old Katy Railroad bridge is no longer used for transportation, the U.S. Coast Guard has deemed it a navigational hazard that must be removed from the Missouri River. Union Pacific, which bought the MKT Railroad in 1988, had lined up a contractor to dismantle it when then-Attorney General Jay Nixon sued in 2005 to halt the project.
Nixon, who now is governor, challenged the decision by then-Gov. Matt Blunt's administration to relinquish the state's legal right to use the bridge as a trail. Nixon lost the lawsuit, and the Missouri Supreme Court last year refused to reconsider a lower court's decision that the state has no property right to the bridge.
But the lawsuit delayed the bridge's removal, and the dismantling remains on hold as the Coast Guard prepares a federally required report on how best to make a historic record of the bridge if it is torn down. That report could be complete by September, said Roger Wiebusch, a Coast Guard bridge administrator based in St. Louis.
It's unlikely Union Pacific could dismantle the bridge before November, when the federal government hopes to announce which rail projects will receive stimulus money.
For now, Union Pacific still plans to tear down the Katy bridge and use its steel for the Osage River bridge, said railroad spokesman Mark Davis. That new bridge is important because it's the last piece needed to complete a dual track between St. Louis and Jefferson City — a route congested by Amtrak passenger trains and as many as 60 freight trains a day.
Davis said he's not aware of any other Union Pacific projects that would need the Katy bridge steel if it's not used on the Osage River.
Brent Hugh, executive director of the Missouri Bicycle Federation, hopes the federal stimulus money will provide the leverage needed to persuade Union Pacific to transfer ownership of the Katy bridge to the state or some other entity that will preserve it.
The biggest hurdle in preserving the old bridge is gaining ownership, Gallagher said. The Save the Katy Trail Coalition already has pledges or donations of nearly $500,000 — about half the amount estimated to be needed to convert it into a pedestrian bridge, she said.
The bridge is featured prominently with the new slogan "Discover our Treasures" on billboards along Interstate 70.
Boonville city tourism director Lisa McClary, when informed of the potential stimulus money for the Osage River bridge, joined others in expressing hope that it could help save the Katy bridge.
"We do love the bridge," McClary said. "I really do think it could be our little Eiffel Tower — kind of a big metal thing that some people don't appreciate. But it is becoming an icon for Boonville."