Future of bridge still uncertain

A Boonville meeting reached no decision on the structure’s fate.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:55 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The question of what should be done with the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge that crosses the Missouri River in Boonville remained unanswered Tuesday after a meeting at Boonville’s Turner Hall.

Advocates for saving the bridge as well as those who would like to see it relocated presented suggestions, but no final decision was reached.

Boonville Mayor Danielle Blanck wants to save the bridge because he says it is an important part of Boonville’s past and possibly the town’s future. Blanck values the bridge as a major tourist attraction.

“A woman from another town approached me and said, ‘Please don’t take the bridge down. My husband and I drive our boat up the river just to see it,’ ” Blanck said. “There are hundreds of people we don’t know about who will be affected by this.”

The Department of Natural Resources says the bridge is a wonderful asset to the cross-state Katy Trail and an important part of the Boonville community.

“We have to consider what the trail has done for mid-Missouri,” DNR Director Steve Mahfood said. “The fabric of mid-Missouri has changed. Boonville is awakening to its heritage and this just adds to that.”

For Todd Baslee, a Boonville resident and member of the Katy Railroad Historical Society, the fate of the bridge is personal.

“My great-grandfather was an engineer for the railroad, and my grandfather was a conductor,” Baslee said. “This is a big part of our family, and I hate to see it go.”

But not all parties are interested in the historical and personal aspects of the bridge.

Union Pacific wants to remove the bridge to comply with the demands of the U.S. Coast Guard. Reusing four of the five spans of the bridge to build a second track at an existing Osage City bridge will save them $8 million and increase transportation at that location.

“This is entirely Union Pacific funded,” Bart Culbertson of Union Pacific said. “The money is available now, and we want to do this now.”

OCCI, the construction company in charge of demolishing the bridge and building a new one in Osage City, is counting on the removal of the bridge for crucial income for their business.

“Our company cannot afford to let this go another year,” OCCI president Tom Smith said. “We haven’t bid on other jobs because we intended on doing this.”

The Coast Guard, who has been trying since 1991 to get Union Pacific to remove the bridge, also would like to see it gone or made usable again.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Culbertson agreed to pass along to Union Pacific the request from the DNR and the city for more time, but he made no guarantees.

Blanck and the DNR agreed to come up with a plan as quickly as possible that determined financial supporters and an entity that would claim liability.

Union Pacific’s goal is to begin work on the bridge by this spring.

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