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Historic bridge has date with wrecking ball




LORETTA -- History no longer is crumbling, it's about to be torn down.

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LORETTA -- History no longer is crumbling, it's about to be torn down.

That's what will be happening if the proposal to tear down a 91.3-feet-long, triple-arch limestone bridge built in 1936 by crews from the Works Progress Administration, passes without objection during a 21-day comment period implemented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The comment period ends Oct. 31.

Russell County's staunch unwillingness to sign off on a plan that would repair and strengthen the limestone bridge, although not maintain its historical integrity, forced Rush County to acquiesce and agree to a complete bridge replacement.

Installing a concrete bridge will cut the cost in half, said Rush County road supervisor Duane Legleiter.

Still, it's going to cost nearly $100,000, with Rush County providing the materials and Russell County providing the manpower for the project.

Responsibility for maintenance of the bridge also would shift to Russell County, away from Rush County, where it now falls.

The bridge straddles both Rush and Russell counties and is a scant half-mile away from the Ellis County line.

To mitigate for the loss, Rush County plans to offer a smaller double-arch bridge for preservation and placement on the National Register of Historic Places. That bridge was built in 1946 and is located approximately 3 miles northwest of La Crosse.

Had Rush County pressed on with its desire to preserve the triple-arch bridge, Legleiter said Russell County wasn't going to pay anything toward the project, and simply walk away from it.

Had the railings been shorter, he said, it might have been possible to do something. As it is, the bridge is relatively narrow with tall railings.

A new bridge, he said, will be wider and simpler to construct.

Demolition of the limestone bridge and construction of the new structure can begin as soon as permits are issued.

That's not possible until the 21-day comment period has passed, and Legleiter's not sure what the government shutdown will mean.

"It's a shame to tear the dang thing down because it was quite a feat to build that thing a long time ago," he said.

But oilfield traffic is pushing the issue for good roads.

As many as 15 tanker loads traverse the area daily, and in wet conditions, Legleiter said, the trucks have to drive 17 miles out of their way "to get back to square one."

If it proceeds to demolition, Legleiter said they hope to save as many of the limestone blocks as possible.

Markers at each end of the bridge will be removed and taken to the Rush County Historical Society.

"We're going to get those things off and bring them in to the historical museum here so they can display them," he said, along with a series of photographs that already have been taken.

Some of the limestone blocks are destined for the Post Rock Museum, where a schoolhouse is to be brought in and set on the stones, which will serve as a foundation. Others will be on display.

"It is probably the biggest limestone bridge in Rush County," Legleiter said.

There's another triple arch bridge in the southern part of the county, he said, but it's much shorter than the one facing demolition.

"It is the biggest stone bridge here in Rush County," Legleiter said.

* Prior to the Oct. 31 deadline, a public hearing can be requested. It must be made in writing and sent to Steven M. Whetzel at the Corps' Kanopolis Field office, 107 Riverside Drive, Marquette, KS 67464. Additional details are available from Whetzel, who can be reached at (816) 389-3098 or by email to steven.m.whetzel@usace.army.mil.