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Iconic Route 66 bridge near Eureka edging closer to reopening

Iconic Route 66 bridge near Eureka edging closer to reopening

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The Clock is Ticking on Route 66 Bridge

Jack Hung, from Eureka, casts his line into the Meramec River near the old Route 66 Bridge on June 23, 2016, at Route 66 State Park in southwest St. Louis County. Unless funding is secured, the bridge is slated for demolition Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — A bridge that once carried Route 66 over the Meramec River near Eureka could be reopened in time for the 100th anniversary of America’s iconic “Mother Road” in 2026.

Although the restoration project at the Route 66 State Park is still $3 million short of being fully funded, officials say they hope to raise the money in the coming year in order to continue the planning process for the historic span.

As an alternative, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources said federal emergency stimulus money also could be used.

“It’s possible federal funding could potentially be available, but it is still very early in process and too early to know if those funds will be available,” DNR spokeswoman Miranda Frederick said Tuesday.

The bridge was built in 1932 at a cost of $133,593. Although other structures spanned the Meramec, it was the first one designed to support cars. Interstate 44 was later built through Missouri.

The 30-foot-wide, 1,008-foot-long bridge was closed to traffic in October 2009, and the driving surface was later removed to take weight off the structure while the state and federal government considered what might come next.

The Missouri Department of Transportation had owned the bridge since 1997, when it took over ownership from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which claimed title to it after dioxin contamination was discovered in Times Beach in the 1980s.

The EPA bought out and leveled the 417-acre town to clean the soil and debris, eventually turning the area into Route 66 State Park.

Last year, St. Louis-based CDG Engineering conducted inspections on the bridge and determined it could be transformed into a 20-foot-wide pedestrian and bicycling pathway for $9 million.

“In general, the bridge is in very good condition for its age,” CDG project manager Glenn Smith told attendees at an informational hearing at the park in August.

Smith said there will be overlooks built into the sides of the path and portals to look through the bridge to the water.

Planners envision the bridge hosting classic car shows and other events.

The planned improvements come as park visits have been surging throughout the nation. Ed Schott, a park superintendent for the DNR’s Lower Meramec Management Unit, said attendance typically averages about 200,000 visitors.

Last year, however, attendance jumped to more than 270,000 visitors. In April 2020, for example, attendance was up 92% from the year before, Schott said.

Grace Wright, project manager at Great Rivers Greenway, which has built more than 120 miles of pedestrian and bike pathways in the St. Louis region, said the goal for the bridge is to use it as a link to connect a trail running from Pacific to the confluence of the Meramec and Mississippi rivers.

Until MoDOT shut down the bridge, it linked the state park visitors center and headquarters on the east side of the Meramec to 417 acres of trails and recreational facilities along the west bank of the river.

DNR and Great Rivers Greenway each have committed $3 million to the project.

At the public hearing, Brian Stith, deputy director for Missouri State Parks, said he could not predict when the project might get underway.

“I really just can’t speak to that,” Stith said.

But he said the 100th anniversary of the road connecting Chicago to Los Angeles would be a fitting opening date.

“That’s a goal of ours,” Stith said.

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