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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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