Last August, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles did a tour of the bridges of Missouri as part of the 2011 Historic Bridge Conference, which included tours of the bridges of St. Louis, Kansas City and some in central and western parts of the state. Among the stops was Ozark in Christian County, where a two-span Pratt through truss bridge, the Riverside Bridge, built in 1909 by the Canton Bridge Company, was the focus of preservation efforts by a local group headed by Kris Dyer to save the structure. A fundraising event took place during the Conference, where over 80 people attended the event.
Almost a year later, changes have taken place and still there is no end in sight regarding the bridge and its future. Why is that? Ms. Dyer was grateful enough to keep all those interested informed on the latest on this bridge and here is the update as seen right now:
Change in Contractors:
The most glaring change was the fact that Matthews and Associates, which was contracted by the county to submit a plan to replace the Riverside Bridge, was let go in March as the project came to a standstill due to lack of funding. The county had approved spending of up to $500,000 in fixing nine bridges but sadly, did not have enough funds from the federal government as both the Republicans and the Democrats in Washington were deadlocked on a bill that would authorize spending on the next five years. Even if the bill was passed, it is unclear how much the state would receive, let alone Christian County. Currently, a stop-gap bill was passed at the end of March by the House to allow construction projects to proceed while the bill is being amended according to recent news. Nevertheless, the process of letting out the contract has started over again which leads to the question of the fate of the Riverside Bridge.
Cannot be fixed; cannot be moved; cannot be demolished:
The cost for replacing the Riverside Bridge will be between $2 and 3 million, regardless of who will build it and where it will be built. Building it on alignments would cut into ownership land on the southeast end of the bridge and land purchased by FEMA (Federal Emergancy Management Agency) at the site of the former Riverside Restaurant. Yet as the bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, demolition is not an option either. Yet the county and the organization vying to save the Riverside Bridge have their backs to the wall due to funding issues combined with legal issues, including liability. To repair the bridge and reopen it to traffic would not be feasible, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation, as the substructure has been worn out beyond repair. Furthermore, the county would have to pay back up to $100,000 to the federal government’s Bridge Replacement Offset Fund, the money that was spent on Matthews and Associate to date. Should the next contractor be hired to take over, the risk is great that a bridge would have to be built at or right next to the site, as there would be some legal wrangling with FEMA with regards to building on their property, while at the same time, there would have to be some approval from nearby property owners to build a bridge on their property. Talks of moving the truss bridge onto a neutral site were also considered, but questions remain of where to relocate the bridge and there were some reservations about this plan. To tear it down would not be feasible for the Section 106 Process (assessing the environmental and cultural impact of altering or replacing a historic place) would have to be carried out before funding on the state and federal levels could be approved. And even then, support for saving the Riverside Bridge has increased since the Historic Bridge Conference in August 2011 as thousands have donated their time and (financial) resources to this project and would like to finally see results- meaning the return of the Riverside Bridge to cycle and pedestrian traffic and incorporating it into the local bike trails that are being built in and around Ozark.
What has made the situation more frustrating is the lack of transparency between the county and the public on this issue. As of right now, there have not been any public meetings on the project and its progress, and tensions grew to a boil at the last meeting on March 15th when county commissioner Lou Lapaglia announced the plan to terminate the contract with Matthews and Associate and not return the money spent to the federal government. Many people believed that much of the action between the county, the state and the contractor were behind closed doors with little or no public input. The people believe that the only legal and moral way to solving this problem is to return the money and find ways to fixing the bridge so it can be used again. There is hope that with the increase in support for the bridge combined with the results of the meeting on the 15th, that there will be more transparency and public involvement in the future, especially once a new contractor has been announced.
As a general rule, attempts to successfully replace a historic bridge usually run behind closed doors and without the public being notified. Speculation is that the county is trying to do that to save money and throw history by the wayside. The problem is however universal, as much of the US has seen much of its infrastructure crumble and there is no money to fix it. Yet there seems to be a glitter of hope for the Riverside Bridge. It is unknown how the next contractor will act regarding this bridge. It is possible that some agreements can be made to use private lands for a new bridge while at the same time rehabilitate the bridge for reuse as a recreational infrastructure. Yet should that fail and the only viable option is to replace the bridge on site, then taking the bridge off the foundations and setting them on land may be a win-win situation as some parts of the bridge may have to be fixed or replaced before putting it back on. It is clear that should the bridge remain standing, the piers supporting the two through truss spans will have to be repaired or replaced due to cracks that were noticed during the inspections and in my visit in August. The truss bridge itself is in good shape and it would be a shame that it was demolished because of the inability to look at options of fixing it ans reopening again. In fact, such a plan would be met with opposition and shot down through the voting process. It is likely that the Riverside Bridge will be saved and reused again in the near future; especially after all the funding and efforts made towards the bridge. It is more of a question of whether a new bridge can be built on alignment and the old one can be fixed and reused again or whether the truss bridge can be relocated if a new bridge at its original location is necessary. Only the people of Christian County (not just the government) can decide that.
To be continued…..