One of only four self-anchored suspension bridges in the entire country and the last still standing, the bridge needs to find a new owner to take over maintenance costs for the upcoming years or else it will be taken down.
J Road bridge, found between Greenmill Campground and Little Niangua Campground on State Route J, is in danger of being demolished due to the upcoming construction of a more modern design. One of only four self-anchored suspension bridges in the entire country and the last still standing, the bridge needs to find a new owner to take over maintenance costs for the upcoming years or else it will be taken down. The new bridge, being constructed just 75 feet from the current location, aims to be a roadway with modern construction for easier access.
MoDOT Transportation Project Manager Troy Hughes says that the projected cost of demolition would come in around $180,000. The cost for the new bridge is close to $3,000,000. 80 percent of the cost for the demolition would be funded federally, with 20 percent coming from state. However, if a party comes forward to claim ownership and responsibility for the existing bridge, the 80 percent federal funds that would have gone to demolishing would instead be given to the new owner. At the projected cost of $180,000, 80 percent would come to a total of $144,000.
Whether or not J Road bridge finds an owner should not affect the work being done on the new site. Hughes says this project is slated to begin work in May 2018 and to be finished by the end of 2019. Though the commission has an extended time to decide, Hughes says an agreement must be made with the new owner in order to officially transfer ownership rights and continue maintenance.
Daphne Jeffries, president of the Camden County Historical Society, says they are working with Karen Daniels and the historic preservation department of MoDOT to acquire ownership of the bridge. Jeffreys says they have plans to create a “Save the Bridge” group to help build funds for the project. Currently, she believes the redirected federal funds would be enough to start the operation. However, to completely rehaul the bridge to be more visitor friendly in the future with ideas such as bike paths and walkways, Jeffreys says they would need close to $400,000.
“The society’s mission is to save as much history as we can in this area,” Jeffries said.
Jeffries believes that citizens in the area surrounding State Route J have ties to this bridge and would not be in favor of letting it be demolished. Because of this, she sees the fundraising opportunities towards this project as being many. She also sees opportunity is working with the nearby campgrounds and seeing what they may be able to provide. Overall, the goal is to take whatever they can get.
“You can’t look past the $10 and $20 donations,” Jeffries said. “Every bit counts. It looks like an insurmountable take, but we need to take it in small bites.”
The first step the historic society would need to take in this process would be securing the deed for ownership through the commission office. For now, this may prove difficult to accomplish. Presiding commissioner Greg Hasty, alongside Second District Associate Commissioner Don Williams, made no decision on the matter during Tuesday’s commission meeting. Road and Bridge Administrator Lee Schuman was present and provided mock up images of a possible construction project to create parking options on the east side of the bridge. He estimated that this project alone would cost over $50,000.
With this cost in mind, and the tax dollars that would be required to help fund maintenance through new ownership, Hasty sees a problematic case in hand. He says that, as it sits, he’s not inclined to help fund the project because of the other uses that the money could go towards. Hasty claims that the commission has 900 miles of road to maintain, and with so many active projects to take care of, this money would be better served elsewhere in the county.
“It’s standard procedure to not take tax payer money and use it on unnecessary projects,” Williams said.
The only way either members sees a way through is for the historical society to come up with a majority of the funds themselves. If this is accomplished, more discussions will be made on the subject in the future. Until they are able to come forward with a definite cash total to put towards the bridge, Hasty says they cannot make any sort of decision.
“For now, we need to sit back and see how the fundraising efforts play out,” Hasty said.