Estimates of bridge expense at odds

Monday, February 20, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:05 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Retrofitting the old Boonville railroad bridge for pedestrian use could cost from $1 million to more than

$11 million. It all depends on who you ask.

The Save the Katy Bridge Coalition, which has been raising money to pay for renovations to the steel bridge, received a bid from Phillips Grading & Construction this month that confirms its estimate of $1 million for the project.

The state Department of Natural Resources, however, maintains that renovating the bridge for pedestrian use would cost $11.5 million, not including maintenance and insurance.

At issue are the bridge’s lift spans, which raise and lower the bridge for barge traffic. The spans have not been operated since 1986. The coalition says that the spans are in good shape and that the bridge can be used for pedestrians without changing the spans.

“The Coast Guard has told us that the spans can be left down for four to six months of the year,” said Chad Sayre, an engineer for the coalition.

For the months when the spans are up, the coalition’s plan includes installing stairs so that pedestrians can still cross the bridge. Sayre said the group would be able to comply with a federal law requiring that the spans have the capacity to be raised within 24 hours.

Kurt Schaefer, deputy director and general counsel with the DNR, said the coalition’s figure isn’t reasonable. Under DNR estimates, elevators or stairs to reach the lift span, improvements to the lift span itself, and other repairs to the bridge would cost $6 million to $10 million.

“The lift span hasn’t been used since 1986, so we’re not even sure if it’s going to work at all,” Schaefer said. “In their plan, they only have $50,000 for lift span improvements, which we think is much too low.”

Even if the Save the Katy Bridge Coalition is able to raise the $1 million it says is needed, the bridge will not necessarily be spared. That’s because their goal does not include money to buy the bridge from Union Pacific Railroad Co.

Union Pacific owns the bridge and wants to tear it down to use the metal for another bridge east of Jefferson City.

Plans to dismantle the bridge are on hold because Attorney General Jay Nixon filed a lawsuit against Gov. Matt Blunt’s administration and the DNR challenging their decision to relinquish the state’s right to use the bridge for the Katy Trail in June.

If renovations do go ahead, Schaefer said he thought it would be pointless to renovate the bridge without having handicapped-access all the time.

“The trail already crosses the river on the neighboring highway bridge,” Schaefer said. “Why would they want to then spend all this money to put in stairs and make it not accessible for all people?”

Sayre said enough people would use the bridge for its view that it would be worth it.

“To be 90 feet off the water on this historic bridge would be an awesome sight and a great tourist attraction,” Sayre said. “Plus the lift span would only have to be up for four to six months of the year.”

Besides the stairs, the coalition would deck the bridge in timber and install high-capacity safety rails. Sayre said the coalition’s plans for decking and safety rails are similar to ones the DNR, the city of Columbia and the University of Missouri have used on other pedestrian bridges throughout the state.

Schaefer said other things like removing the bridge’s lead paint, which would cost $250,000 to $500,000, are not in the coalition’s estimates.

“When you start to think about it, it’s hard to imagine what they think they are going to do for $1 million,” Schaefer said.

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