A Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist has written about the Missouri Department of Transportation’s apparent unwillingness to deed the closed Gasconade River Bridge to the Route 66 Association of Missouri.
Tony Messenger, metro columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, filed his latest piece Thursday. Messenger, who often casts light on local or state government’s wrongdoing or indifference, won the Pultizer in 2019 for columns that exposed how Missouri’s court system forced residents charged with misdemeanors to pay unaffordable fines or be sent to jail.
Messenger’s latest focuses on Mikel Garrett, a member of the Route 66 Association of Missouri, and the closed bridge that sits on old Route 66 near Hazelgreen:
“It’s a piece of history,” Garrett says. The bridge was built before Route 66 became a thing and is now one of the only bridges of its type left on the historic roadway as it passes through Missouri. “It would be tragic for them to tear it down.”
That seems to be MoDOT’s intent, despite efforts from the association and its president, Rich Dinkela, to save it. The effort has been ongoing since 2014, and, for a while, it seemed, MoDOT had every intention of turning the ownership of the bridge over to the Route 66 Association so Dinkela’s group could preserve it. Ideally, they want to turn it into a path for biking and hiking to attract visitors who come from all over the world to see Route 66 and its remnants.
But, Dinkela and Garrett both say, the state’s transportation department keeps playing the part of Lucy in a Charlie Brown episode.
“The Route 66 Association has met every request that MoDOT has and MoDOT keeps moving the ball,” Garrett says. “It’s a tragedy.”
MoDOT alleges the association has not presented an adequate insurance policy for the bridge. Messenger’s column presents evidence from Garrett, who obtained such a policy, and U.S. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation official Jaime Loichinger that contradicts the state.
The state has said if the association cannot obtain insurance for the nearly century-old bridge, it won’t deed it over and will request bids to tear it down.
We’ll see what effect this column has. At the least, it’s cast an uncomfortable spotlight on MoDOT in front of thousands of Post-Dispatch readers.
(Image of the Gasconade River Bridge near Hazelgreen, Missouri, in September 2014 by Indtrigg via Flickr)