Future of Gasconade River Bridge on Old Route 66 unknown

Published: Aug. 8, 2018 at 5:48 AM CDT
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The Gasconade River Bridge is a historic part of Route 66. However, a new bridge will soon take its place, leaving the old ones future in jeopardy.

Cars have not been able to use the Gasconade River Bridge for more than three years because of extensive deterioration that shut down the bridge in 2014. Fast-forward to May 2018, when the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission approved a $4.4 million face lift for the bridge that is just west of Hazelgreen. The plans included building a new bridge next to the existing bridge. Meanwhile, the original bridge would be listed on MoDOT's free bridge web page. If no one takes it over, it could be torn down in the next couple of years.

Bob Lynch, the Area Engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said the team came up with the plans after reviewing costs and hearing from the public. Lynch said they figured out the cost to repair the old bridge and then compared it to the cost to build an entirely new bridge. He said the price tags were about equal, and that it was a better, more long-term solution to construct a new one. "It wouldn't allow us to open it up to all traffic, it'd still be weight limited," Lynch said of some of the issues with solely repairing the old bridge. "Sometime in the near future you'd still have to do something to the old bridge."

People across Laclede County and fellow Route 66 fans are worried about the future of the original Gasconade River Bridge along the Mother Road. "I'm all about Route 66 and preserving it and promoting it," said preservationist Richard Dinkela, or Roamin Rich as he's more commonly known. "It's just a great piece of history and there's all sorts of different culture and people along that road," he said. "I felt like this is something that deserves to be saved."

That's why Roamin Rich took his preservation efforts to the next level, making the Gasconade River Bridge a more social media savvy location by placing a Route 66 themed chair in front of it. "We just thought it be a cool little catch for people to get out here and take their picture with the bridge in the background," said Rich. "It helps to promote the bridge that much more and Route 66 while people get to leave a piece of themselves behind."

Locals agree that the chair's become somewhat of an internet sensation in their town. Lebanon Councilman Chuck Jordan said his wife sat in the chair and it was only a few minutes later until that photo was it on Facebook. "That's what it's for, to get the word out and get people prompted to do that," said Jordan. Fellow local Stephen Henson agreed. "I like the fact that people sign their names on it in support of Route 66 and the bridge."

The chair can also bring people together who have something in common, the fact that they've traveled Route 66. "I crossed this bridge when I was just a child and I remember back in the 40's," said resident Cliff Claxton. Councilman Jordan also remembered driving it to and from work on a daily basis, along with Richard Seibert who has road trip memories as well. "When I was seven years old, my dad took us all on vacation and we drove 66 from LA to Chicago," said Seibert.

Now, these preservationist are looking for someone to take over ownership of the old bridge, so it won't get demolished in the future. "MoDOT will give you the bridge if you can show you're credible and financially solvent in taking on the bridge," explained Roamin Rich. "It will be a huge opportunity, this is a destination, travelers come across this bridge all the time."

They are looking for someone who has a passion for the past and all it can teach up. "I want this bridge saved because of history," said Ray Jeter Sr. who lives just down the road from the bridge. Jeter Sr. also has family lineage who helped build the original bridge.

Construction for the new Gasconade River Bridge is expected to start in mid-August and will be completed by August 2019.