The Highway 40 bridge over the Salt Creek in Howard County will likely be replaced at the end of 2021, and the old bridge is free for the taking.
Built in 1941 when Highway 40 was the main connection between St. Louis and Kansas City, the Salt Creek bridge has seen better days. Pockmarked with potholes and boasting screwed-on support joints, the bridge isn’t a smooth ride.
The good news for drivers is the bridge will either be repaired or replaced in 2021. The good news for fans of historic bridges is that the state is offering up the existing bridge free of charge to anyone who can move it. It’s one of eight bridges MoDOT is currently offering around the state.
Before the state demolishes a historic bridge, it has to see if anyone else will take it, said MoDOT Historic Preservation Specialist Karen Daniels. It also has to see if repairing the bridge is feasible.
Bridges are put on the free bridges list if they’re scheduled to be demolished in a few years. If the state decides to repair the bridge instead of replacing it, it will take the bridge off the list. Because of the condition of the Salt Creek bridge, it will likely be demolished, but it is still early in the process, Daniels said.
Before Interstate 70 blasted through the Rocheport bluffs and crossed the Missouri River, Highway 40 was the way to go. In the 1920s, the highway was improved to handle increasing traffic. By the early 1940s, traffic was already more than it could handle, Daniels said.
The highway, including Salt Creek bridge had to be expanded. Otto Knutson built the 578-foot span at a cost of $108,219. It featured wide, flange girders for support and had to be curved to cross the then-active MKT railway, according to MoDOT.
When I-70 was built in the 1960s, it pulled a lot of traffic away from Highway 40. The Salt Creek bridge has since served drivers traveling from Boonville and New Franklin to Columbia, while heavy highway traffic has shifted south. The bridge represents the evolution of traffic through the area in the mid-20th century, Daniels said.
The state markets bridges about 12 times a year, but it doesn’t get many takers — fewer than one a year, Daniels said. Shorter county bridges are more likely to be moved than longer, state bridges, she said.
Bridges have been used to make fishing piers on ponds, bridges for walking trails, or by someone who just wants a bridge to cross a stream on their own property. MoDOT has also been working with a St. Louis group that teaches bridge painting and inspection and wants historic bridges for its students to work on, Daniels said.
“Of course, some people just appreciate historic bridges and say, ‘Hey, that’s important, we should try to save that,’” she said. “We do have some local groups that form to save historic bridges.”
Applications for relocation or reuse of the bridge or its components may be made until March 16.
MoDOT looks over applications to make sure the groups applying to take the bridges know what they’re getting into. They have to have a plan for what they’re going to do with the bridge and how they’re moving it, and an estimate of what it will cost them, Daniels said.
The state could make funds set aside for demolishing bridges available to groups who take them, according to MoDOT. They may also be able to get federal grants. Other than that, the taker is responsible for paying to move the bridge, and liable for anything that happens with the bridge after that, Daniels said.