BOONVILLE — The MKT Bridge, a historic and engineering feat, stood strong Friday night as citizens gathered at a town meeting to discuss future of the bridge.
The meeting, held by the Save the Katy Bridge organization at Turner Hall, brought 54 people to what economic developer Sarah Gallagher referred to as a “gauge for citizen support.”
Gallagher and Paula Shannon, the head of the organization, began the meeting by emphasizing citizen participation to ensure success. Partici-pants received an update on the status of the bridge, including project ideas being submitted by Columbia engineer Chad Sayre.
Meeting participants also found out about the people and the organizations who pledged support for the project. The Isle of Capri Casino, Missouri River AmeriCorps Project, Katy Trail Coalition, state Sen. Bill Stouffer, R–Napton, and state Rep. Kenny Jones, R–California, have all expressed interest in providing service.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources claimed the rights to use the bridge as part of the Katy Trail through a letter former director Stephen Mahfood sent to the Union Pacific Railroad Co. Dec. 23, 2004.
Mahfood cited the 1987 Interim Trail Use Agreement as evidence the bridge could be legally utilized for trail purposes. The agreement is part of the Federal Rails to Trails Legislation.
Mahfood’s initiative, along with a previous letter submitted to the Interstate Commerce Commission that provided a “statement of willingness” claiming responsibility for possible taxes, management, and legal liability for the structure, put the bridge under DNR management.
The action that saved the bridge from relocation and demolition by Union Pacific was Mahfood’s last as director. Mahfood resigned and left of-fice by the first of the year.
One plan for the bridge proposed by Shannon and Gallagher involves elevator systems to bring visitors and trail users up to the lift span in its current raised position.
Wayne Harmony, a Boonville resident and project supervisor for the renovation of Hotel Frederick, says the bridge’s lift span should be fully operational.
“It’s what it was designed for, I think it would be cheaper to make it operational, then some alternatives being proposed,” Harmony said. “People would come to see it go up and down. When the bridge is saved and operational, there will be more (personal) water traffic, and we will hopefully have a riverfront area.”
Columbia mayor Darwin Hindman, president of the Katy Trail Coalition, attended the meeting and presented the organization with a $5,000 do-nation to help start the project. The Katy Trail Coalition was one of the major groups that ensured the completion of the trail.
Ever since the statewide trail became operational, the group has been dormant, Hindman said.
He said the bridge would be a good way to get the coalition active once more.
“I have always been a great believer in (physical) activity,” Hindman said. “Walking and bicycling are the best ways for activity; rail trails are great for this. They don’t take up much space, save wildlife corridors, are wide enough for social activities, and take you out to the country side. They are also tremendous economic benefits.”
Hindman said the bridge could be seen as the nucleus of the trail in central Missouri.
The organization expects to finance the project with private money. They are seeking state and city support, but Boonville mayor Danielle Blanck is doubtful the city will commit funds to the bridge. As Gallagher sees it, Boonville already invested money in the bridge by letting her pursue the project.
The meeting established a citizen committee composed of nine volunteers, including Hindman and Blanck’s husband, attorney Dick Blanck. Danielle Blanck also contributed a $1,000 check to the organization.
For Boonville resident and committee volunteer Cheryl Lixey, the bridge is more than an economic resource — it’s a part of her family, who gave the MKT line three generations of conductors.
“I am doing it for my grand dad Don Lang who was a conductor for the MKT for forty years,” Lixey said as she showed a picture of Lang in his conductor’s uniform. “He passed away six years ago, and I know he would hate to see it down.”
Gov. Matt Blunt and the new director of the DNR, Doyle Childers, still have the final say in what happens with the bridge. Gallagher does not see the current status changing, but she is encouraging people who support the project to sign the petition.
“Gov. Matt Blunt is going to do what he thinks is best,” Gallagher said. “If he does nothing then the letter still stands, and we just have to raise the money.”
Donations for the Save the Katy Bridge organization are accepted by the Friends of Historic Boonville to ensure contributions are tax deductible.