BOONVILLE — Plans are in place to begin work early next year on transforming a historic railroad bridge into a centerpiece of the cross-state Katy Trail.
The railroad bridge, completed in 1932, was listed as one of the Most Endangered Historic Places of 2005 by the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation as the longest lift-span bridge in the U.S. at the time of construction.
Union Pacific’s plans in 2004 to demolish the bridge and reuse the steel for a bridge in Osage City met opposition, and plans to dismantle the bridge were halted after the issue entered the courts.
After a protracted legal battle, ownership of the bridge was transferred on Jan. 7 from Union Pacific Railroad to the city of Boonville, with plans to open the bridge as a bicycle and pedestrian crossing once the multi-year project is completed.
Irl Tessendorf, Boonville city administrator, has been involved with efforts to save the bridge since 2006.
“The goal is to have the bridge be appealing to more than just biking and recreation enthusiasts,” Tessendorf said. “We hope to make it a multifaceted attraction. I think people think this bridge can be a centerpiece for the Katy Trail and attract a lot of people to Boonville, and we can benefit from the increase in tourism.”
Bridge rehabilitation plans were drafted by an engineering firm that estimated the renovations would cost $3 million to $4 million. Construction will be divided into three phases, with the first phase beginning next year.
After all three phases are complete, the bridge will connect via the trail to the highway bridge, completing the loop for pedestrians and bicyclists. In the future, plans could include use of the bridge to create a venue for events such as weddings, Tessendorf said.
The project will be financed through a combination of grants from the state and a fund created by the city of Boonville. The Save the Katy Bridge Coalition, a nonprofit organization that was started in 2005 to preserve the bridge, will contribute initial funds and raise additional money.
Phase one will cost an estimated $750,000 and includes plans to replace the missing span on the south end of the bridge to reconnect it to the existing bridge, Tessendorf said. The bridge is inaccessible without this end span.
The first phase will also include removing railroad ties and resurfacing part of the bridge.
Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2014 and will be a multi-year endeavor until all three phases are completed. “The rest of 2013 will be occupied with engineering design and bid preparation,” Tessendorf said.
Former Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman said the bridge serves as a connection between Boonville and Franklin, where the Santa Fe Trail began. Hindman played an integral role in establishing the cross-state Katy Trail in the 1980s and has long been an advocate for redevelopment of the bridge and its continued presence on the trail.
“As long as Boonville has been associated with railroads, this bridge has been there,” Hindman said. “There’s an obvious historical tie between Boonville, the river and the railroad."
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