The cross-state Katy Trail has once again captured the attention of Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman.
Hindman, who played an active role in the development of the recreation trail that parallels the Missouri River, wants to save the old railroad bridge at Boonville and make it part of the walking and biking path. He plans on attending a 2 p.m. Thursday meeting at Historic Turner Hall in Boonville to advance the idea.
“The Coast Guard wants it removed if it’s not being used as a bridge,” Hindman said. “Well, let’s make it usable.”
The Katy Trail is on the railroad bed of the MKT, but the route at Boonville takes users across a highway bridge rather than the old steel span.
“I would like to see the whole bridge remain intact and have it become part of the Katy Trail,” Hindman said. “It would add a tremendous amount to the experience of the Katy Trail.”
The trail is operated as a state park by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
“We’re all about the preservation of the bridge if possible,” said Brant Vollman of the DNR’s State Historic Preservation Program. “We have a role in this process to make sure the city is given the opportunity to try to preserve the bridge. Federal agencies must take into account the historical significance of this bridge.”
In addition to the trail, Hindman thinks keeping the bridge would benefit Boonville.
“This could become a tourist attraction for Boonville,” Hindman said. “What is the first thing you think of when you think of San Francisco? The Golden Gate Bridge. People are attracted to bridges, and this one crosses the Missouri River in a spectacular sort of way. It could become a symbol of Boonville.”
Sarah Gallagher, economic development director for Boonville, sees the bridge as not just an opportunity for Boonville, but for the whole state.
“This is bigger than Boonville,” Gallagher said. “We don’t want all the funding and insuring to fall on Boonville because this is a state resource.”
Gallagher organized Thursday’s meeting after receiving numerous phone calls from the community regarding the fate of the bridge.
“We market ourselves as a historic community and that’s being taken away from us,” Gallagher said. “It’s one of those things you take for granted until it’s gone. One day we’ll wake up and ask, ‘How did this happen?’ And I want to ask that question while there’s still time.”
Union Pacific Railroad has other plans.
“We need those sections to improve rail operations in another area,” said Mark Davis, regional director of public relations for Union Pacific. “(The architecture) speaks volumes for the construction of this bridge. It was ahead of its time technologically and structurally. It is a very usable structure and can serve many more years. It’s just a matter of recycling.”
The U.S. Coast Guard’s policy is that as long as the bridge is in use it can remain over the Missouri River, but funding plays a huge role in this project.
“Individual ownership of a bridge is never very successful,” Roger Wiebusch of the U.S. Coast Guard said. “You must have deep pockets because it costs a great deal to renovate, maintain and insure the bridge. There’s a lot of liability involved and you have to pay demolition costs if it needs to be removed later.”