The president of the Route 66 Association of Missouri on Tuesday confronted the Missouri Department of Transporation with its contradictions and accused the agency of acting “in bad faith” over the association’s proposal to take over ownership and preserve the closed Gasconade River Bridge.
According to a report from the Lebanon-Laclede County Route 66 Society, association President Rich Dinkela levied the accusations during a virtual consultation hearing that is required to determine how the bridge’s possible removal might be mitigated. MoDOT in February rejected the association’s plan for the bridge to eventually convert it to pedestrian and/or bicycle 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.
Dinkela also detailed his misgivings with MoDOT in a Facebook Live video before the meeting.
He also said in the video: “These are the last days of the bridge. If you live anywhere near the bridge, you might want to go check it out soon because I cannot guarantee its existence over the next 12 months.”
Betsy Merritt, deputy general counsel of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, weighed in during the hearing, saying the organization is “extremely concerned” about MoDOT’s rationale about the insurance coverage and that an “impossible insurance requirement is absolutely unjustified.”
Phillip Denton, an attorney who is an association member, also criticized MoDOT’s insurance requirement that is “literally impossible to achieve.” He also accused MoDOT of never having any intention to donate the bridge to the association.
In a separate story, the Route 66 society reported if the bridge is torn down, the westernmost Pony truss of the span might be used in the Route 66-themed Boswell Park in Lebanon.
Daniel said that if the bridge isn’t saved in place, MoDOT would work with Lebanon to make the Boswell Park project happen. Later in the meeting, she explained that a transfer agreement would need to be negotiated. The agreement would include a timeline and details on how the Lebanon groups would get the pony-truss sides from where MoDOT sets them down to Boswell Park.
Of other “mitigation measures” offered by the more than 30 state and federal officials and preservationists at the meeting, nobody else asked for remnants of the bridge. Jax Welborn of the Route 66 Gasconade River Bridge Guardians proposed that, if the bridge is demolished, historical markers be placed at the east and west ends of where the bridge stood. The markers would give the history of the bridge and directions to Boswell Park, where the pony truss could be seen.
In the interim, Dinkela urges Route 66 enthusiasts to write or call these officials, urging the preservation of the bridge:
Gov. Mike Parson
Missouri Department of Transportation
Missouri Department of Natural Resources
State Historic Preservation Office
Dr. Toni M. Prawl
Director of Tourism
Missouri Department of Economic Development
Highway Commission chairman
Michael T Walters
Dinkela states: “Be sure to be polite when conversing with others on the phone. Please explain you would like to express your concerns over the fate of the Gasconade Bridge on Route 66 in Laclede County, MO.”
State officials closed the nearly century-old bridge in December 2014 after an inspection revealed grave deterioration in the structure.
MoDOT later built a new bridge a few yards away from the old bridge and Interstate 44.
(Image of the Gasconade River Bridge near Hazelgreen, Missouri, in September 2014 by Indtrigg via Flickr)