The Missouri Department of Transportation “has acted in bad faith” in negotiating with the Route 66 Association of Missouri over ownership of the closed Route 66 Gasconade River Bridge, Rich Dinkela, president of the Route 66 group, contended at a meeting Tuesday to discuss the impact if the bridge is demolished.
More than 30 state and federal officials and preservationists attended the two-hour “Section 106” consultation meeting, held virtually, which is required to determine how the bridge’s possible removal might be mitigated.
The Route 66 Association of Missouri has been fighting to save the bridge since MoDOT closed it for safety reasons Dec. 20, 2014, following a routine inspection. Last month, MoDOT rejected the association’s latest plan to take over ownership of the bridge and eventually preserve it for pedestrian and other recreational use.
Dinkela said MoDOT’s letter of rejection “was kind of insulting and kind of a smack in the face.”
A major obstacle has been the insurance MoDOT wants the Route 66 Association of Missouri to carry on the bridge considering that the state has three other bridges downriver in close proximity.
“The insurance policy your counsel suggested doing does not exist,” Dinkela argued. “It’s an impossible hurdle to overcome. . . . It’s kind of a big joke, in my opinion.”
Dinkela said the state association has demonstrated its ability to raise funds, another issue MoDOT raised. He also claimed MoDOT has been inconsistent in how it is treating the Gasconade River Bridge compared to other bridges formerly on the state system that preservationists have taken over.
“You guys aren’t acting in good faith,” he said.
He discussed how important the bridge is to Route 66, “the most important highway in the United States.”
Dinkela received support from Betsy Merritt, deputy general counsel of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The National Trust is extremely concerned on a national level about the rationale concerning the insurance.”
She said an “impossible insurance requirement is absolutely unjustified.”
Phillip Denton, an attorney who is a board member of the Route 66 Association of Missouri, also criticized MoDOT’s insurance requirement.
“What MoDOT is asking for is literally impossible to achieve” for a non-profit organization like the Route 66 Association of Missouri, Denton said, adding that the requirement was “proof that MoDOT had no intention ever to donate the bridge. . .”
Denton said many travelers consider Missouri to be the most-attractive Route 66 state. “You are gutting part of that attractiveness to the state.”
MoDOT officials at the meeting did not argue with Dinkela and others who criticized the agency. Raegan Ball, program development team leader for the Federal Highway Administration in Missouri, said MoDOT’s response to the Route 66 Association of Missouri’s proposal “meets the minimum threshold” of what’s required.
“Ultimately, it’s up to MoDOT” to determine the fate of the bridge, she said.
Michael Meinkoth, MoDOT historic preservation manager, explained that MoDOT is taking a two-path approach to the Gasconade River Bridge. One path is to continue discussions on preserving the bridge. The second path, the purpose of the meeting and two previous Section 106 meetings, was to determine the “mitigation measures” if the bridge isn’t saved.
Among the mitigation measures discussed was that a survey be conducted of remaining Route 66 bridges in Missouri to determine National Register of Historic Places eligibility.
The Lebanon-Laclede County Route 66 Society and the Lebanon Parks and Recreation Department presented letters asking that, if the bridge is demolished, sides of the bridge’s “pony truss” be used to create a pedestrian bridge in Route 66-themed Boswell Park. (See separate story.)