Katy bridge decision

Friday, April 28, 2006

A judge's ruling this week that an old Katy Railroad bridge over the Missouri River near Boonville, Mo., can be torn down by the Union Pacific Railroad Co. and used to build a much needed additional span in Cole County should put the matter to rest. But an assistant to Attorney General Jay Nixon, who sued the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in an attempt to save the bridge, says the ruling may be appealed, prolonging the issue and generating additional legal expenses for the lawyers hired by DNR.

The DNR had to hire its own lawyers because the state's attorney -- that would be Nixon -- was on the other side in this case.

This complex case has other twists and turns. A separate issue of interest to users of the Katy Trail -- a walking and biking path that crosses much of the state's midsection -- concerns the future status of the entire trail if a portion of it reverts to private ownership. Some trail supporters worry that all of the trail might be in jeopardy if Union Pacific's claim on the bridge is upheld.

At one point, the DNR director in Gov. Bob Holden's administration, Steve Mahfood, exercised the state's right under a 1987 purchase agreement with the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad to claim ownership of the bridge for the state. But Katy Trail users have never used the bridge in question. They have instead been diverted to a nearby highway bridge. The current DNR director, appointed by Gov. Matt Blunt, reversed his predecessor's decision on the grounds that the state could not afford to rehabilitate the Katy bridge -- costs were estimated as high as $11 million -- and Union-Pacific could put the old span to good use and eliminate a rail bottleneck that would benefit Missouri's shippers.

It would be in the best interests of Missouri taxpayers to give this matter a rest, now that a judge has ruled. To pursue the case would not only incur more legal expenses, but also could require the state to fund repairs to an old bridge that can be better used elsewhere.

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