- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2016

EUREKA, Mo. (AP) — The effort to save what’s left of a bridge on historic Route 66 in St. Louis County is taking on a sense of urgency.

It has been nearly seven years since the last vehicle crossed on the bridge over the Meramec River that once served as an entry point to Times Beach, a community evacuated in the 1980s due to dioxin contamination.

Though the bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places, the Missouri Department of Transportation deemed the components structurally unsound and closed it in 2009. The road bed and side rails were removed a year later.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the structural remains will likely be demolished early next year unless $575,000 is raised to transfer ownership away from MoDOT by Dec. 31.

Preservationists aren’t giving up.

“Eventually there is going to be a bridge across the Meramec, so wouldn’t it be better if it is a historic bridge?” asked Ruth Keenoy of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, who is leading the effort to save the 84-year-old span.

The state of Missouri converted the old Times Beach area to park land after cleanup. Times Beach became contaminated in the 1970s when waste hauler Russell Bliss was hired to spray dirt roads to keep down the dust. The oil he used was later found to contain dioxin, a carcinogen.

Until MoDOT closed the bridge, it linked the visitors center and headquarters on the east side of the Meramec River to trails and recreational facilities on the west side.

Though the deck is gone, the piers and “Warren trusses” that supported the weight of traffic remain. The Warren trusses are unique, with only three other Missouri bridges boasting that structural design.

Preservationists want to cap the Warren trusses with a deck to provide a crossing for pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicular park equipment.

Great Rivers Greenway has joined with Trailnet and other organizations to push for saving the bridge. By Dec. 31, supporters must raise $1 million to transfer stewardship from MoDOT to a division of another state agency, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

They have a head start. MoDOT agreed to contribute the $325,000 it saved by not completely demolishing the bridge. The state park system agreed to kick in $100,000. But the remaining $575,000 must come through private donations.

A GoFundMe account has brought in about $6,000.

“Route 66 is part of the fabric of the country, and this bridge played a vital role in that,” said St. Louis County Historian Daniel Gonzales. “Now we could be tearing it down, which is a real crisis in my mind.”

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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