National Trails Day Saturday June 3rd, 2006

The Boonville MKT Bridge
Springfield News-Leader had a set of pro-con editorials about the Boonville Bridge recently:

Attorney General Jay Nixon, who filed a lawsuit to preserve the bridge, wrote:
Mrs. [Pat] Jones, whose gift of $2.2 million was instrumental to the trail, recently stated, "Railbanking the complete rail corridor, including the Boonville bridge, was an important factor which led to our decision to give money for the Katy Trail." What kind of message does this giveaway send to a new generation of philanthropists considering the greater good of future generations of Missourians, including the retired founder and CEO of Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Jack Taylor, who has pledged $200,000 to save the bridge?
The News-Leader itself weighs in on the side of abandoning the bridge:
Frankly, trail advocates' concerns might be well-placed, but that's no excuse to keep a private company from exercising its rights to a bridge it already owns. If the trail preservationists want their bridge, allow them to raise the money and make an offer for the hunk of steel.
Writing in favor of giving the bridge away is DNR Director Doyle Childers:
This week, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources won a court case that decided the state made the right decision 19 years ago about an old railroad bridge in Boonville: Union Pacific owns the bridge. Always has, still does. . . .
Unfortunately, as most DNR statements about this issue have, Childers' statement contains factual errors and important omissions:
It acknowledged the department could use the bridge for the trail, if the railroad agreed, with stated conditions, and if the state first accepted all liability and agreed to pay for expenses the railroad would incur associated with the bridge, including replacing the entire structure if necessary.
The contract with the MKT railroad gave the state two distinct rights in the bridge. One right is, as Childers correctly states, to be able to use the bridge as part of the Katy Trail under certain conditions.

The other, completely separate and more important right, however, is for the railroad to leave the bridge in position and available for transportation use.

This is vitally important because the legal status of the Katy Trail rests on a legal situation known as "railbanking"--saving the rail corridor intact for possible future rail use. A rail corridor can only be railbanked if it remains connected, for railway transportation purposes, to the rest of the active rail network. Removing the bridge will create a break in the Katy Trail corridor for rail transportation purposes and that means that a 160-mile stretch of the corridor has a connection to the rail network at only one end. This is a very vulnerable situation to be in and leaves that section of the trail vulnerable to legal attacks and unforeseeable future adverse events.

Both the DNR and the MKT railroad knew this when they drew up the trail agreement and that is why they were careful to insert the provision in the trail agreement, that the bridge must be kept in place for transportation use--regardless of whether it was ever used as part of the trail itself.
Cost estimates to make the bridge usable ranged well into the multi-millions of dollars. Prior to filing his lawsuit against the department, the attorney general's office acknowledged it was unknown what costs the state could incur for use of the bridge — this for a bridge still owned by the railroad, which could reclaim the bridge for rail use at any time.
Trail supporters now have solid estimates for bridge conversion and they are far less than the DNR claims.
Missouri taxpayers have already paid for the trail to cross the river. More than a decade ago, the state of Missouri constructed an extra lane on an adjacent highway bridge to provide trail access over the Missouri River. Being fiscally responsible, we cannot support the use of public monies to operate two different trail routes over the river.
This may be true, but it is not the important issue that must be faced in regard to the Boonville Bridge. Giving away the bridge endangers the legal status of the entire trail by threatening its railbanked status.
It is questionable whether the Missouri Constitution would allow public spending on a privately owned structure. I seriously doubt Missouri taxpayers would want the director of the Department of Natural Resources taking private property without paying for it.
By the same token the state should not have given away its two distinct rights in the bridge without any compensation from the railroad. In particular, the state could have demanded legal settlements, easements, and so on that could have solved or at least helped mitigate the Katy Trail railbanking problem. But the DNR did not do so.
The Katy Trail is not jeopardized if the bridge is removed. The right of way still exists if the bridge is not in place.
This is a false statement--even the DNR's own legal advisors have maintained the opposite. The right of way may still exist but the legal basis of it is threatened and put on a weaker footing.