Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Missouri River Pedestrian Bridge at Jefferson City

This morning was the groundbreaking ceremony for the long-awaited pedestrian addition to the Missouri River Bridge here at Jefferson City. I’m not an official journalist, I’m just a blogger, and an amateur one at that—but I’m thrilled that this project is moving forward!

Indeed, it’s a step forward on many accounts. It advances tourism in Jefferson City. It advances the connection of the Katy Trail State Park with neighboring communities. It advances safety for bicyclists and pedestrians as well as for the over 50,000 vehicle drivers that cross the river here each day.

(Nifty shovel, huh?)

In order to appreciate what we’re getting, you have to know what we have now. Right now, there are two bridges crossing the river—the one on the west is for southbound traffic and the one on the east is for northbound. When they built the second of these two bridges (the northbound one), back in 1991, they didn’t take possible pedestrian or bicycle traffic into account.

Meanwhile, also twenty years ago, the Katy Trail State Park was launched. Indeed, they’re celebrating this rails-to-trails park’s twentieth anniversary this month! It follows the old MKT railroad line from St. Charles clear to Clinton, Missouri.

It passes by Jefferson City right across the river at a point they call “North Jefferson”—but which many of us locals still think of as “Cedar City.” Cedar City was destroyed by the Great Flood of 1993.

Anyway, Jeff City has annexed the former town, but there’s really not much there beside the MFA, a golf range, some big soccer fields, and the Katy Trail access point.

So a problem arose: Even though the city built a nice bike trail connecting the cross-state Katy Trail to a point nearer to the Missouri River Bridge, bicyclists had hell to go through before getting across the river to Jeff City proper.

And that’s bad for tourism! And it’s dangerous, any way you slice it. The temporary solution has been to add a “bike lane” to the northbound (wider) bridge. But . . . that lane must function for bicyclists traveling both directions.

Now, if you’re a grown-up, responsible bicyclist, every fiber of your being should rebel against the thought of riding on the left side of the road, against traffic. But that is what you’re “supposed” to do if you are heading south, toward town. Argh!

And God forbid you should have to pass another bicyclist going the opposite way! —But of course, that rarely happens, since most bicyclists don’t want to attempt this ugly crossing.

Seriously—the traffic on the bridge is posted at 60 mph—which you know means many people are traveling at 70 mph. Including huge trucks.

You can’t tell from a car, but you can tell when you’re walking: Those big trucks make the bridge rumble and shake. They pass you in a whirlwind, stirring up grit and litter, creating a suction that threatens to pull you away from the shoulder. No joke.

So they finally did it—all these agencies, governments, and organizations put their heads together, and the work is beginning next week. (They would have begun this week, they said, but for all the rain.) A local company from Fulton, OCCI, Inc., won the bid.

The project is going to cost $6.7 million—the money’s coming from MoDOT, the City of Jefferson, the DNR, and the Missouri State Parks Foundation. That last is a private, nonprofit organization formed to raise money for Missouri State Parks. There was a 20 percent local match.

The Missouri Department of Transportation is naturally in charge of this project, as it pertains to Missouri Highways 54 and 63, which merge at this point to get across the river.

But, as Mayor Landwehr pointed out in his brief remarks, this has been a three-times complex project—complex engineering, complex funding issues, and complex in terms of policy, the drawing together of the governments of Callaway and Cole counties, the City of Jefferson, plus the state agencies for highways and state parks.

He also noted the good the pedestrian access will do for Jefferson City, “connecting the dots” of the Katy Trail with the State Capitol (which is a huge tourist attraction), the 12.5-mile Jefferson City Greenway system, and, one day, a development on Adrian’s Island making it friendly for public recreation.

It also makes it much easier for residents of Jefferson City to ride directly to the trail, instead of having to load their bikes into a vehicle and drive there. And that, my friends, will make Jefferson City—particularly the old-town portions near to the bridge—into a more desirable place to live.

And you know the Jefferson City CVB is thrilled about this project—there are thousands of riders on the Katy Trail, and it would be grand to have them spend the night in Jeff, eat at one of our fine restaurants, do a little shopping . . . !

So the plan is to attach an eight-foot-wide pathway against the east edge of the easternmost (northbound) bridge—which provides enough room for a couple of bikes to pass, as well as pleasant views of the State Capitol and the river. There will be a couple of places where you can stop to take in the sight.

Here is a view of the east side of the bridge, where it is going to be attached:

It must have been fun for them to figure out how to handle the trail on the north side of the river, since the bikes would have to cross the highway somehow. To accomplish this, they’re going to build a multi-staged ramp so that trail riders can get from bridge level down to the ground, then ride under the bridges to the nearby (and scenic) Carl R. Noren river access. (Which is managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation—see, I told you this is a complicated project!)

I took a picture of one of the artist-renditions of what the ramp will look like. I'm sure you can see this better on the MoDOT Web site:

From the river access (boat ramp), the trail will lead to the existing Katy Trail “North Jefferson” access point.

I don’t know about you, but as a native Central Missourian, I treasure the Missouri River, and from a young age, I have always assumed that one of the main reasons for bridges is for you to get a good look at all that water rushing below, and the landscape around. It has seemed unnatural that Jefferson City hasn’t done much to monopolize on its several potentially fabulous river views.

Mayor Landwehr pointed out, I think correctly, that the Missouri River is our own “big nature.” “We don’t have Rocky Mountains or an ocean here. But we have the Missouri.” And yes, it is unique.

As I stood there listening to the speakers at this morning’s groundbreaking, my eyes were incessantly drawn to the river going by in the landscape beyond them. It is hypnotic, it is inevitable, and it is somehow gentle. More people ought to look at rivers, and the pedestrian bridge is one step in the right direction.

They say it will be complete a year from now!

Meanwhile, they cautioned, lanes will be narrowed, traffic will be forced to slow down, and you won’t be able to get on the bridge from Main Street. I say: No problemo! Bring on the bike path!

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