Gasconade River Bridge - looking up

Laclede County’s Gasconade River Bridge might be saved after all – with the Route 66 Association of Missouri as its new owner.

The association plans to submit a proposal to that effect to the Missouri Department of Transportation by March 4. MoDOT has set an April 20 “drop-dead date” for bridge supporters to find new ownership for the internationally known landmark before plans to demolish it are finalized.

“We’re not committing to take ownership of the bridge; we’re committing to enter negotiations to take ownership of the bridge,” Rich Dinkela, president of the Route 66 Association of Missouri, said Saturday following a special board meeting to consider the plan.

MoDOT closed the deteriorating four-span, steel-truss bridge for safety reasons on Dec. 18, 2014, and opened a new, parallel bridge last Aug. 2. The old bridge was built between 1922 and 1924, before Route 66 was designated in 1926. The Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation has listed the bridge among the historic “Places in Peril” several times since the closing.

Route 66 preservationists, notably the Route 66 Gasconade River Bridge Guardians, have tried to save the bridge since it closed, including the Guardians’ brief partnership with Workin’ Bridges, an out-of-state organization with bridge-preservation experience, but all efforts until now have failed.  Last year the Guardians unsuccessfully approached the Laclede County Commission about the county taking ownership of the bridge.

Saturday’s special meeting of the Route 66 Association of Missouri board was its second this month to discuss the bridge. Secretary Judy Wallmark said afterward that the board voted to form a Bridge Committee to “develop a proposal that the Route 66 Association of Missouri will become the new owners of the Gasconade River Bridge, and send such proposal to the association board for concurrence” before forwarding it on to MoDOT by March 4. Dinkela will be committee chairman, with Wallmark, Joe Sonderman, Phillip Denton, Kip Welborn and Mark Norman as members.

“We plan on meeting really shortly,” Dinkela said after Saturday’s meeting.

Dinkela said that he is pleased that Denton, a prominent St. Louis lawyer, has joined efforts to save the bridge. Welborn, president of the Gasconade River Bridge Guardians, also is a St. Louis lawyer.

The proposal planned for the Gasconade River Bridge is similar to one Dinkela said MoDOT already has accepted for preservationists trying to save the Green’s Mill Bridge over the Little Niangua River in Camden County. He said that bridge no longer is in immediate danger of demolition as the Green’s Mill Historical Bridge Inc. tries to raise $87,000.

According to an April 24, 2019, story on LakeExpo.com, “Green's Mill Historical Bridge Inc. needs to demonstrate that they have raised funds, or have commitments for five years of maintenance and the funds for the rehabilitation. In total, the group needs $87,000. Once these financial commitments have been reached, FHWA [Federal Highway Administration] and MoDOT will transfer the bridge to their organization along with $207,000, which was the budget for the demolition of the bridge. These funds would be placed in an escrow or capital account for long-term preservation.”

Dinkela said his goal is to raise $100,000 for the Gasconade River Bridge and use the $235,000 MoDOT has budgeted for its demolition to rehabilitate the structure.

He admitted that the bridge can’t be rehabilitated fully for $335,000. A 2019 structural evaluation of the bridge estimated construction costs for rehabilitation at $1.9 million with total costs, including design and other fees, at more than $2.5 million.

“The approach I’m taking with the bridge is that the deck is the most deteriorated,” Dinkela said, adding that if the deck is removed, and the deck’s weight is off the bridge structure, the bridge could “stand there another 100 years. It gets the bridge saved and reduces exposure of liability.”

He noted that the closed Route 66 bridge over the Meramec River at Route 66 State Park, west of St. Louis, currently stands without its deck while awaiting rehabilitation.

In a related matter, Dinkela said a Small Claims Court judge in St. Louis last week ordered Workin’ Bridges to return $1,000 the Gasconade River Bridge Guardians donated when Workin' Bridges was working on the bridge project.

“If we’re going to go out and ask for more money, I want (donors) to be confident that we’re good stewards of that money,” Dinkela said.

Dinkela said he was pleased that the Route 66 Association of Missouri is moving forward with efforts to become the bridge’s owners.

“I’m tired but I’m happy,” he said. “Still a lot of work to do.”

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