Federal officials approve construction of new Missouri River bridge

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) -- The Federal Highway Administration has approved an $88-million plan to replace the 70-year-old Amelia Earhart Bridge with a new four-lane overpass.

The aging bridge on U.S. 59, which crosses the Missouri River between Buchanan County and Atchison, Kan., was similar in design to the collapsed Minnesota bridge and one of the worst rated in Kansas.

The new Amelia Earhart Memorial Bridge will be built immediately south of the current bridge.

"The (decision) marks a major milestone that brings us one step closer" to construction, Kris Norton, project manager for the Kansas Department of Transportation, said Tuesday.

While preservationists are concerned about losing the historic bridge, part of the plan includes an agreement that the history of the bridge will be documented for the community, with portions set aside for display.

Still, Janine Joslin, executive director of the Kansas Preservation Alliance Inc., said her organization and the National Trust for Historic Preservation refused to sign the decision as a protest. The groups believe the old two-lane bridge could last 30 more years through proper care.

"We feel like it's a significant loss," Joslin said. "The bridge was (determined to be) safe. We're losing these architecturally significant bridges."

The old bridge will remain open during construction and continue to be inspected annually. It shares the steel deck truss design of the Interstate 35 West bridge in Minnesota, which collapsed Aug. 1, killing 13 people.

To build the new bridge, Missouri and Kansas will have to acquire five acres of commercial property, said Kansas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Maggie Thompson. The project could go out for bids in 2009, with the work anticipated to finish in spring 2011.

Information from: St. Joseph News-Press, http://www.stjoenews-press.com

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