Route 66 in the News

Historic Bridge May Get Upgrade

2009-04-16 20:43:41

WAYNESVILLE, Mo. - At the heart of Devils Elbow is a truss bridge that crosses the Big Piney River on the original alignment of Route 66.

Built in 1923, just two years after the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921 provided the catalyst for the creation of Route 66, the bridge was made obsolete in 1942 when a new one was built.

Today, the nearly 600 foot long bridge remains open to traffic, although it has been listed in poor condition by the Missouri Department of Transportation for at least two consecutive years.

One only has to glance at the steel and concrete structure to see the rust consuming it.

Underneath the bridge, conditions worsen and there has been some concern the bridge will be “red-flagged” if restoration doesn’t happen soon. The Pulaski County Commission has been working on addressing the issue, but an original estimate of cost to correct the problems reached a whopping $1.6 million.

It’s money the county doesn’t have to pour into any project, let alone one bridge. But a few funding sources have been secured, including a grant with the United States Department of Agriculture and an Off-System Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation (BRO) program. BRO provides funding for counties through the Missouri Department of Transportation for replacement and rehabilitation of deficient bridges.

Those two sources will cover pre-engineering work on the bridge. The commission approved the $99,938 contract with Springfield-based Great River Engineering at its meeting April 9. But there’s more that could be done and Dixon business owner Jerry Plunkett is busy writing letters to grant officials and engineers.

Citing the possibility of federal dollars, Plunkett said the government’s interest in renewable energy could open up doors that might have been locked before.

His ideas call for increasing safety for drivers using the structure, rebuilding parts of the bridge with recycled or reusable material and integrating renewable energy, like solar power, to melt snow and ice.

“This opens up opportunities that you probably haven’t had before,” he told the commission earlier this year. “(We can) make this not only a bridge to the past, but a bridge to the future.” Plunkett’s ideas come with a hefty price tag—it would probably cost double the $1.6 million originally planned and Plunkett said he could probably raise an additional half-million, but it still won’t be enough.

“Why should you folks here in this area try to restore a historic bridge when you don’t even have the money to rebuild after the floods?” he said. “You can’t pay the $1.6 million and I know you can’t pay $3.2 million, and you shouldn’t have to.

“I think you’re looking at double your amount. And I think you can get the money.”

That’s where the potential for federal dollars comes into play but Plunkett cautioned the lead problems need to be taken care of first, both from a restoration perspective and an environmental one.

“The first thing you have to do is get rid of the lead,” he said. “The red lead problem is serious there. It’s flaking right now.”

Plunkett said correcting the problem could take six months or longer. But it's something that needs to be addressed because it affects the ability to fix the bridge and it impacts recreation activities, like fishing, in the Big Piney River.

Plunkett advocated straightening the curved approaches to the bridge to reduce the risk of accidents associated with such designs. In 2007, daily traffic on the bridge averaged 100 vehicles. Additionally, a heated deck made of lightweight recycled or reused materials would help reduce environmental impact and could take away some of the structure’s dead weight.

“We’ll make it a safe bridge, we’ll make it a green bridge. We’ll use recyclable materials and we’ll use renewable energy,” Plunkett said. “There’s no question—you can rehabilitate it.”

Though the changes would make the Devils Elbow bridge one of the future, its inherent design wouldn’t change much. Keeping its historical value intact is key.

“There really is no other bridge that I know of that you can do what we can do with that one,” Plunkett said. “This is a bridge of great historical culture. It’s a marvelous opportunity.”

~DawnDee Bostwick, Waynesville Daily Guide


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