Tugging at Katy Bridge could put Union Pacific in troubled waters

Thursday, November 15, 2007 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:50 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dear James, Dennis and Robert,

No, I am not breaking up with the three of you. In fact, we have never met. However, I did want to publicly voice my disappointment with you, the senior management of the Union Pacific, fighting over a 75-year old structure, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas rail bridge in Boonville. It’s making the company look bad.

I know the state has no “ownership” of the bridge, but the history of the state does. I also know your corporate concern is how to make money, save money or save time. This, after all, is the basis of all business rhetoric, argument and persuasion, something I teach my students and clients.

Gentlemen, many states have magnificent hiking trails. Most are very short. Then there are the trails that cross the nation, like the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail running from Maine to Georgia, the 2,655-mile Pacific Coast Trail and the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail, both stretching from the Canadian border to Mexico. Yet, it is the Katy Trail, 265 miles from Machen to Clinton, which holds my interest in terms of American history and the economy of Missouri.

The Katy Trail also holds a place near and dear to the hearts and finances of small-town Missouri, the history of those towns, this state and nation. It is the economic lifeblood of many a village that otherwise would have been swallowed by the Missouri River years ago. With only a few exceptions, small-town Missouri survives because of the tourists brought in by the Katy Trail, a true oasis in Middle America. Without the Katy Trail, Hermann, Hartsburg and Rocheport might be lost names on our map.

For me, it all started with a ride on the Katy and MKT trails from MU to Les Bourgeois. I found the trail to be a place of peace and quiet, comfort and extreme beauty. It was seeing the wildlife in the middle of Columbia and watching the Missouri River meander through the fields and below the cliffs. A few years later, I passed under a magnificent structure spanning the Missouri, the Katy Bridge. I have followed its trials and tribulations of the bridge ever since.

Boonville, though hosting “The Boat,” still looks toward the river as a source of income. The trail is only one of its attractions of historical note. The other is the Katy Bridge. There has been a crossing at this point of the river for over 130 years, with the current bridge giving life to this small town since 1932. Although its removal will not put Boonville in financial danger, the city will lose a major historical landmark.

So here is how Union Pacific can save money and time. Leave the Boonville structure alone and build the new bridge with recycled material made by an American company. It will be built better and faster, last longer, require less maintenance, carry much larger loads and enhance local and state economies. Create a fund to support the great railroad history of central Missouri and to maintain the Katy Trail and associated trails throughout the state. This will, in turn, keep small-town America alive and well. It will create new jobs and bring continued propriety to Missouri. It will create a huge amount of goodwill, great press and superb political collateral, something that money cannot buy — usually. Goodwill is worth much more than paper money; just ask my friends Ben and Jerry. And the political dollars can be spent in Missouri, within the reaches of the Union Pacific network and beyond.

So gentlemen, what do you say? Why don’t you leave the old bridge standing, donate it to the Save the Katy Bridge Coalition, take the tax break and allow an important piece of history to stand for future generations of Missourians. Or do I have to write your director, Philip Anshutz (I met him in a former lifetime), and tell him you are not playing nicely with others?

David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and instructor at Columbia College. He welcomes your comments at

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