Even though some aldermen said they did not want to halt construction of a new bridge over the Meramec River, they voted 5-0 this week to approve a resolution deeding a small strip of land in the project to Franklin County as a quid pro quo for adding a pedestrian lane to the new bridge.
Alderman Heather Filley was not present at the meeting.
The action occurred after Alderman Steve Myers made a plea to fellow aldermen that Pacific not deed a three-tenths-mile strip of Highway N between the bridge project and the city limit to MoDOT for transfer to the county without a design change on the new bridge.
Mayor Jeff Palmore said the strip of roadway had been accidentally deeded to Pacific and should be deeded to MoDOT and back to the county because it was included in the bridge project.
Franklin County has already bid the $4.5 million project and plans to award a construction contract as soon as MoDOT signs off on it.
The bid includes building a new bridge and improving Highway N with a new road and sidewalk from the bridge to Pacific city limits. The strip of roadway involved in this issue is included in the project.
Aldermen indicated at the Aug. 2 board meeting that they might withhold the land without a pedestrian lane, which prompted an angry response from Franklin County Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer, who said Pacific was trying to hold the bridge hostage.
Griesheimer said the county would go ahead with construction and improve Highway N up to the strip of land, leaving an unimproved strip of roadway at Pacific’s doorstep.
Myers said he believes the county can be required to add the pedestrian lane to the bridge. He read correspondences he has received from the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation and an email he had sent to Jason Lange with East-West Gateway Council of Governments (EWGW) calling for the pedestrian lane.
Myers said he had petitioned for a pedestrian lane on the bridge as long ago as three years and the county had ignored the request.
Others Weigh In
Dr. Ed Hillhouse, interim superintendent for the Meramec Valley School, was in the audience. He was called into the discussion when Myers asked him to comment on EWGW procedures.
Hillhouse, who previously served as Franklin County presiding commissioner and EWGW executive director, said EWGW would answer questions about whether a demand for a pedestrian lane would jeopardize the bridge.
“Plans can be amended, but it takes so much time for a project to happen, you stand the risk of losing the money for the bridge,” Hillhouse said.
Resident Mike Butler said the county wants to move forward with the bridge and the community is in jeopardy of losing the bridge if Pacific keeps fighting it.
“Losing the bridge could happen over this and that bridge is needed,” Butler said.
Hillhouse said officials should talk with EWGW about the issue.
“They’ll give you a straight answer,” he said.
Mayor Jeff Palmore said people who desire changes on the bridge should contact EWGW and Franklin County and try to convince them to widen the bridge.
The mayor also said his research indicates that adding a lane to the bridge that would be half a mile long would be very expensive.
“We’re talking about a large sum of money,” Palmore said. “This is not just a matter of adding a cantilever walkway. This is a very costly proposition.”
Before casting their votes to require the pedestrian lane in exchange for the strip of land, Aldermen Carol Johnson and Mike Bates said they did not want to stop the project.
Griesheimer told The Missourian that the county would not accept the strip of land with any requirement attached about the bridge.
“The resolution is non-binding,” Griesheimer said. “As far as I’m concerned, it means nothing.
“To add a lane at this late date, we would have to do a complete redesign of the bridge, which means we’d lose the funding,” he said. “It would go back into the pot to be distributed to other projects and it would be years in the future before we get funding for another bridge.”
As soon as MoDOT signs off on the project it will move forward, Griesheimer said.
“We’re going to award the contract, build the bridge and improve the road up to that strip of land and Pacific can do what they want,” he said.
Jim Wild, EWGW executive director, agreed with Griesheimer about loss of the funding.
Wild said adding a lane to the bridge would require a redesign, which the county would have to pay for and would take time.
The county has already used its one-time schedule change on the bridge so the deadline for allocation of funds is the end of September, he said.
If the funds are not allocated by that date they go back into the regional pot for use on other projects.
Best-case scenario to successfully apply for funds for a new bridge would be four years, Wild said. It could be longer depending on the strength of the other projects that the bridge would be competing with, he noted.