It’s always a challenge: What to do with an old bridge that is being retired? The Highway 47 bridge over the Missouri River is coasting toward retirement. After more than three-quarters of a century on the job, serving millions of motorists, including farmers with their equipment, the Washington bridge will be replaced by a shiny, streamlined structure, sturdy with bulging pier muscles and expected to last as long as the one being retired.
The old structure has been a major player in the city’s history and its growth. It connected the north with the south. It has been an important link to Washington for people living in southern Warren County and southwestern St. Charles County, areas that have enjoyed commercial and residential growth. When school districts in those counties asked to be part of the Washington School District, the bridge already was there. Consolidation would not have been possible without the bridge.
When Washington civic leaders, and pilots, searched for an airport site back in the 1950s and 1960s, the location in Warren County would not have been feasible if the bridge had not been there. The bridge served as a valuable resource for people who required health care. The hospital in Washington came before the bridge. But it has been the bridge that gave people to the north a passageway to more convenient health care — not only for treatment at the hospital but access to doctors’ offices.
Countless residents on the north side of the river work in Washington, or in other nearby communities on the south side. The bridge also has been a valuable asset to the state’s road system, serving Highway 47 traffic from Interstate 70 to Interstate 44.
The bridge has been many things to many people and the city.
Yes, a hunk of it should be preserved. Ideas are needed. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) will hold an open house Thursday, Dec. 5, at city hall. People will have an opportunity to voice their ideas and opinions to MoDOT officials. Comments will be accepted until Dec. 19 by email (Norris@modot.mo.gov) or by mail to Shirley Norris, MoDOT, 1590 Woodlake Drive, Chesterfield, MO 63017.
To preserve parts of the bridge to serve as “outlooks” on either side or on both sides, is an idea that has been heard. Using a hunk of bridge steel for some sort of a monument at Rennick Riverfront Park also is an idea that has bounced around. Could some of the steel be used to build an elevated walkway over Front Street to reach the riverfront?
Some ideas may sound crazy at first hearing, but you never know what creative thinking can produce.