Route 66 in the News

Bridge Could Be Razed

2010-01-25 21:31:31

EUREKA, Mo. - People visiting Missouri's Route 66 State Park can browse through a converted 1930s roadhouse filled with mementos of the iconic Chicago-to-Los Angeles highway that ran through here.

But that stroll down memory lane ends abruptly just a few short feet from the visitor center.

In October, the Missouri Department of Transportation was forced to close the bridge that once carried Route 66 over the Meramec River because it can no longer support traffic.

"There are huge holes on it," said Andrew Gates, a MoDOT spokesman. "It is not safe for people to drive, walk or cycle on. We will get to the point where if nothing else is done and no one takes responsibility the bridge would collapse under its own weight."

Missouri transportation officials must find someone to take over liability for the 78-year-old bridge, then agree to repair it and maintain it. If no one is found to do that, the state Department of Transportation would have to remove it, Gates said.

Repairing the two-lane bridge would cost $10 million to $20 million. State spending priorities focus on bridges that carry more traffic and link communities, Gates said. The Meramec span carried about 400 cars a day before it was closed.

The bridge's condition worsened rapidly, said state bridge engineer Dennis Heckman. Before it was closed, it was limited to vehicles weighing no more than 5 tons. In addition to cars, the bridge is closed to cyclists and pedestrians because the railings are deemed to be inadequate.

"It was a tough decision," Heckman said. "We have had conversations with the state park staff for years that this was coming."

'IT'S MORE THAN JUST BLACKTOP'

But Joe Sonderman of Hazelwood, a local traffic reporter and author of three books on Route 66, said the aging span is one of the last historic links to old Route 66 through the western reaches of St. Louis County.

"We have been working to try to preserve the bridge, to do what we can to make sure that all other avenues are exhausted before they demolish it," said Sonderman, who hopes someone can buy time until the money is found to repair the bridge. "Once you tear that thing down, it's gone."

Sonderman hopes public outcry will save the bridge before another piece of old Route 66 vanishes.

"If you drive it, you understand," Sonderman said. "It only takes one trip to realize it's more than just blacktop. It's history you can touch."

It also provided a link to Times Beach a flood-prone former Superfund site whose residents were bought out in 1983. Sonderman said it's the "last physical remnant" of the Times Beach saga.

The Meramec River bridge was built in 1932 for $133,593, records show. Although other structures spanned the Meramec, this was the first one designed to support cars. Seven years earlier, the St. Louis Star-Times bought land along the Meramec River and sold single lots with newspaper subscriptions for $67.50 each. The community of Times Beach was billed as a working-class resort town and the bridge became known as the "Times Beach Bridge."

Years later, Interstate 44 was built through Missouri and segments of Route 66 were decommissioned along the way.

Times Beach became the site of a major environmental cleanup after dioxin-laden soil was discovered there. Waste oil sprayed on city roads had contained the toxic chemical.

John Regenbogen, executive director of Scenic Missouri, said a number of organizations share Sonderman's concerns that the historic bridge will be razed. He said the bridge is a landmark of both regional and national significance.

"It's really a key asset for our region," Regenbogen said. "So we're trying to elevate awareness."

Sonderman said those interested can call MoDOT or their local lawmakers. Hearings also will be scheduled next month in Pacific and Kirkwood on a separate Route 66 management plan.

The bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

MoDOT would have to prepare environmental documentation of the bridge before anything is done. If it reaches the point where the span must be removed, said MoDOT Historian Jane Lee, that documentation would include photographs of the bridge structure.

"I don't want to see the bridge taken down," Lee said. "This is a valuable piece of our history."

~Ken Leiser, StLToday.com

 

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