No time, money to keep bridge

A plan for the Union Pacific Bridge would use steel spans in other projects to save money
Friday, September 17, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:21 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Boonville is about 10 years too late and several million dollars short to save the Union Pacific Bridge over the Missouri River.

Around 30 people, including Boonville and Columbia city officials, the United States Coast Guard, Union Pacific Railroad and community members, gathered in historic Turner Hall on Thursday to discuss the fate of the Boonville Bridge.

The meeting gave community members a chance to ask questions, propose alternative options and plead to save the historic landmark.

Union Pacific General Director of Construction Bart Culbertson said the bridge has been idle for years and no one has suggested any use for it until recently.

In the past two years, there has been more pressure from the Coast Guard to remove the bridge, which is hazardous to river traffic.

Culbertson said with the price of steel skyrocketing in the past few years, it is economical for the company to reuse four of the five spans as part of an addition to the railroad bridge at Osage City. He said had someone offered to buy the bridge 10 years ago, Union Pacific would have sold it extremely cheap.

“This bridge has lasted for 70 years, and we want to get another 70 out of it,” Culbertson said.

Both Union Pacific and the Coast Guard answered questions and listened to concerns from the community for two hours. Ideas included keeping the whole bridge intact as part of the cross-state Katy Trail and leaving the center span and rebuilding the removed spans in an effort to salvage just the bridge house.

Ultimately, it comes down to money. Boonville does not have the funds to pay for such projects, and Union Pacific is not willing to sell the entire bridge because it wants to use the spans elsewhere. In the end, Union Pacific will save $7 million by reusing the spans and not having to purchase new steel.

As the meeting progressed, suggestions changed from elaborate, hopeful ideas to small, practical projects.

Chad Sayre of All State Engineering requested that Union Pacific evaluate the possibility of removing the bridge house and part of the tower it rests on and bringing it to shore. Sayre would like to see this section turned into a museum and historical marker for the Katy Trail.

“To me, steel isn’t historical,” Sayre said. “But this bridge house is. We want to put it by the river so people can come tour it and appreciate it.”

Culbertson said the suggestion would be taken under consideration.

Mayor Darwin Hindman, who was interested in making the bridge part of the Katy Trail, said a lesson can be learned from this situation.

“It’s a sadness and a reality,” Hindman said. “I understand the practicalities, and I can’t ignore that it is a hazard to navigation. I can’t ignore the railroad and their economic reasons. But overall it is just a shame when you think about what this bridge could do.”

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