After years of meetings and discussions with Union Pacific Railroad about the bridges over the tracks on Oak Street and Walnut Street, Carthage officials are trying a different tact — the railroad needs to bring the recently closed Sycamore Street up to a “reliable standard.”
City Administrator Tom Short said it's not exactly a new tactic, but the closure of the Sycamore Street bridge earlier this month pushed the city to finally put this assertion in writing and send a letter to Union Pacific Railroad.
Short said the city had not heard back from the railroad as of Monday, 10 days after the letter was sent.
“We've talked about this for several years with regards to the Oak Street bridge and Walnut Street bridge,” Short said. “This last inspection, where we had to close the Sycamore Street bridge, just precipitated the letter. Something has got to be done about the bridges.”
In its letter, the city said: “A review of our information, it appears that the railroad was required to install and maintain numerous crossings in the city as a part of the city granting the easement for the railroad right-of-way. Therefore, the city of Carthage is hereby notifying the railroad of these conditions and requiring the bridge be brought up to a reliable standard.”
The letter deals specifically with the Sycamore Street bridge which was closed on Feb. 12 after an annual inspection showed cracks on critical supports for the structure.
The city closed the bridge permanently and has said it cannot be fixed. It needs to be replaced.
The city has been talking to the railroad for more than six years about refurbishing the iconic Oak Street bridge, also known by other names as the “whee bridge” or “tickle-tummy bridge” because of its unique hump and its location on Route 66.
The city received a grant from the Missouri Department of Transportation for $200,000 back in 2006 to rebuild the bridge, but the railroad has said if the city does rebuild the bridge, it needs to make the bridge longer and raise the clearance under it by several feet.
The requirements more than doubled the cost of refurbishing the bridge, making it far more expensive than the available grant money. It would also remove the unique hump, which has thrilled children and now travelers on the historic road, for decades.
Then, in 2011, the county offered about $200,000 in federal funds to rebuild the Walnut Street bridge over the railroad.
The county ran into the same requirements from the railroad and eventually backed out of the project early in 2012 and offered to let the city use the money on a different project.
The railroad has said it has an easement wide enough for two sets of tracks and any changes made to the crossings should allow the railroad to use the entire easement if it wants to.
Page 2 of 2 - A spokesman for Union Pacific has said the railroad wants to protect the right of way for future growth, including allowing the railroad to add track and carry double stacked shipping containers through town.
“We need to protect the right of way for future growth,” Union Pacific Spokesman Mark Davis said in January 2012. “In the last 10 years, we’ve run into situations with communities where we haven’t followed our own guidelines, then traffic increased and we had to build track. It’s hard when you have to go to a community and tell them we have to punch a hole in their new bridge for the new track.”
Short called the letter a “starting point” to renew talks between the city and the railroad, which have been on hold for several months.