Before construction began on the new Highway 47 bridge over the Missouri River, Bridge Committee Chairman Bob Zick gave Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer a piece that crumbled from the old bridge each time the two visited.
“It was a very impactful, dramatic and graphic way to make a point,” Luetkemeyer said Saturday afternoon, during the ceremony marking the opening of the new bridge.
“This is a fantastic addition to the community,” Luetkemeyer remarked. “This is the kind of community and the kind of leadership that understands to get things done you have to work corroboratively.
“My hats off to all of you for what you have been able to accomplish — this is quite a bridge,” he said.
Cooperation and community were mentioned by many of the speakers at Saturday’s event held in the middle of the newly constructed $63 million bridge.
Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy thanked many of those who had a part in making the bridge a reality, including Area Engineer Judy Wagner and the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) staff, the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission and Chairman Gregg Smith, and the Washington Area Highways Transportation Committee and Chairman Bill Straatmann, among others.
“Building a bridge of this magnitude is a symbol of hope for our future,” said Lucy. “Although all of us here will have the opportunity to drive, walk or bicycle across the Missouri River we won’t be the only ones. This new bridge will provide safe crossings for generations to come. It really is for those who come after us.”
Lucy also credited Zick for his dedication to the new bridge.
“This man left no stone unturned in his efforts to get and keep this bridge in the forefront of any and all transportation discussions,” she said.
Lucy asked those in attendance who were at the opening of the former bridge in 1936 to stand.
Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said the opening of the bridge fulfills a promise to the community.
“A promise that reflects Missouri’s commitment, Franklin and Warren counties’ commitment and the city of Washington’s commitment to our region’s future, our children and generations to come,” he said. “Billions of dollars in materials, millions of people and vehicles will surely cross this structure with the promise of what lies ahead economically, socially and psychologically.”
Brinker noted former mayors Dick Stratman and the late Bernie Hillermann laid the groundwork for the bridge several years ago.
“That was all Mayor Sandy Lucy needed as she took their vision and helped make it a reality,” he said.
Brinker said when people enter Franklin County on the bridge, one of the first structures they see is Mercy Hospital, then Washington High School, banks and churches, and other businesses.
“These entities truly reflect our region’s desires, strong faith, good education, good health and welfare,” he said.
Zick recognized the students who participated in penny drives to raise money for the new bridge.
In 2012, children from local schools presented about $1,400 in pennies to the Missouri Highway Commission members who met in Washington.
“What a community when even the children help pay for the bridge,” Zick joked.
He then praised Judy Wagner for her work on the bridge project.
“I am going to have a lot of enduring images of this day,” he said. “I want to recognize everyone who worked on this bridge.”
MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna said the bridge will serve as a “vital piece” of infrastructure in the state.
“This is a special day for us,” said McKenna, “From the pennies from children in Washington to the pennies people pay in gas taxes that go to Washington, D.C., this is a partnership.”
State Sen. Dave Schatz recognized MoDOT for contributions to infrastructure across the state, including the bridge.
“This is a perfect example of the investment and infrastructure we need, and what can be done and put together with the right people in place,” Schatz said.
“Congratulations to the mayor (Lucy) and community on this great project,” added Gregg Smith, highway commission chairman. “I am glad to see it through.”
State Rep. Bart Korman and Warren County Commissioner Hubie Kluesner also spoke during the ceremony. That story is in this edition of The Missourian.