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Friday, February 05, 2010

UP gives historic rail bridge to city

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A rusty Missouri River railroad bridge that came to symbolize the battle between historical tourism and modern transportation has been saved from demolition due largely to federal stimulus funds, local newspapers report. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Union Pacific has agreed to give the old bridge to the central Missouri city of Boonville, which hopes to convert it for use by hikers and bikers on the Katy Trail State Park.

The 78-year-old bridge, which hasn't carried a train in a couple of decades, had been targeted to be torn by Union Pacific so that its steel could be used to build a much-need second railroad crossing over the Osage River east of Jefferson City. But last week, the federal government awarded Missouri $31 million in railroad stimulus funds, three-fourths of which will be used to help build a new Osage River bridge. That alleviated the need for the steel from the old Katy bridge, said railroad spokesman Ben Jones.

Public and private funds still are needed to renovate the old bridge. But Nixon said he is confident it will eventually become part of the Katy Trail, a 225-mile path that follows the old route of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Co., commonly known as the Katy Railroad.

The Katy Trail is promoted by Missouri as the longest developed rail-to-trail project in the nation. It currently diverts from its rail-bed route to a nearby highway bridge to cross the Missouri River at Boonville. But the historic lift-span bridge has long been coveted for the trail. Supporters fought for more than five years in the courts, federal regulatory agencies and behind-the-scenes negotiations to try to preserve it.

"We have saved the bridge, opened up economic and recreational opportunities for central Missouri and the world," Nixon said at a news conference with the bridge in the background. And because of the federal grant for new Osage River bridge, "we've also increased the ability to move goods across the state of Missouri and put us in a better situation to have high-speed rail."

The Osage River bridge will cost $28 million, with $5.6 million coming from Union Pacific and the rest from federal grant, Jones said. The Union Pacific lines also are used by Amtrak, meaning trains often must stop and take turns crossing the single available bridge.

Because the old Katy Railroad bridge near Boonville was no longer used for transportation, the U.S. Coast Guard had deemed it a navigational hazard that must be removed from the Missouri River. Union Pacific, which bought the MKT Railroad in 1988, had lined up a contractor to dismantle it when then-Attorney General Jay Nixon sued in 2005 to halt the project.

Nixon, who became governor in January 2009, lost in a case that went to the Missouri Supreme Court. But the legal fight delayed the bridge's dismantling and regulatory procedures delayed it further.

Boonville Mayor Dave Nicholas said it will cost between $2 million and $4 million to convert the bridge for use on the Katy Trail. The city has $500,000 for the bridge in its budget that takes effect in April, he said. The nonprofit Save the Katy Bridge Coalition has pledges of $360,000, said chairwoman Paula Shannon, who believes fundraising will pick up now that the project has become a reality.

Before the bridge can be crossed, workers will have to rebuild one span that had been removed. Shannon said the goal is to first get the sections closest to the shores open for pedestrians, then tackle the middle section, which can be raised and lowered to allow barges and boats to pass underneath. The Missouri River typically is used by shippers only in the warmer months, when water levels are higher.

One option is to install an elevator system that would carry people from the lowered sections of the bridge to the raised section and then back down, said Chad Sayre, of the Columbia-based engineering firm Allstate Consultants, which has been working on the project.

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