Construction is progressing on a project to rehabilitate the aging, historic Devil’s Elbow Bridge in rural Pulaski County.
“This is a project that began 10 or 11 years ago, and we are finally seeing the construction phase, so its very exciting,” Pulaski County Presiding Commissioner Gene Newkirk said. “It’s moving right along, and, so far, it’s been very smooth.”
The Pulaski County Commission took note of the bridge’s deteriorating condition—including severe rusting, cracked substructure and considerable soil loss near the south abutment—several years ago and began working to secure funding for a $1.3 million restoration project.
The funding for the project was found last year when the county commission was able to combine Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) Bridge Replacement Off-System (BRO) and MoDOT’s Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds with a mixture of grant funds awarded.
MoDOT BRO and STP funds are covering 80 percent of the project, and the Missouri Department of Economic Development Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program along with a small grant from the National Parks Service and a local match from Pulaski County make up the remaining project funding.
The Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) helped prepare the CDBG, STP and National Park Service grant applications and is serving as the administrator for the $250,000 CDBG grant awarded.
Not only will the rehabilitation of the project address safety issues, but it also maintains the historic significance of the structure.
“We have so many people from all over the country who come down to the bridge while traveling Route 66 because it is historic,” Newkirk said. “Many pictures have been taken of that bridge, and many people in our local communities, too, have pictures taken on that bridge from many, many years ago.”
The pages of the nearby Elbow Inn guestbook indicate that the picturesque place not only draws travelers from other states but from several other countries as well. Entries have included guests from France, Italy, Germany, New Zealand, Canada and Australia to name a few.
“We are very fortunate here in Pulaski County to have 33 original miles of Route 66, and we are internationally known for that,” Pulaski County Tourism Bureau Director Beth Wiles said, noting that the stretch is also known as one of the most beautiful in the country.
“They look at Route 66 as that key component of America,” Wiles said of the international travelers.
The influx of tourists seeking a part of American history is greatest from April through October, and brings tourism dollars not just to businesses near the bridge like the Elbow Inn, but also into the cities of Waynesville and St. Robert.
Built in 1923, the bridge was part of the original Route 66. The portion of the nostalgic highway that passes through Devil’s Elbow, however, proved to be dangerous and soon came to be called “Bloody 66.”
As a result, the Hooker Cut realignment took place in 1940, bypassing the bridge. At that time, it was the deepest rock cut in the country.
According to the HAER Bridge Inventory, a list of historic bridges in Missouri, the Devil’s Elbow Bridge may be eligible for a place on the National Register of Historic Places. It is believed to be one of the earliest examples of Missouri State Highway Department long-span truss design still in existence.
Additionally, Newkirk noted it is also one of only two remaining bridges in the state containing a curve. The second is the Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis, which was recently converted to a pedestrian bridge. Wiles added that it is the only curved bridge on the original Route 66 still open to traffic.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the rehabilitation project was held in October, and, by the end of March, the 400-foot deck of the bridge began to retake its original shape.
The framing of the new deck is in place and half of the decking concrete has been poured with the remaining half expected to be poured by mid to late April. Once the remaining portion of the deck has been poured, the bridge will be painted and additional structural work will be completed.
Engineering services for the project have been provided by Great River Engineering out of Springfield, Mo. The engineer currently supervising the project, Steve Brown, expects it to be re-opened to traffic by August at the latest. Phillips Hardy, Inc., out of Columbia, is the general contractor for the project. The contractor was selected through a competitive bid process.
For individuals interested in touring the 33-mile stretch of Route 66 in Pulaski County, a turn-by-turn brochure is available for download at visitpulaskicounty.org. Alternately, the brochure is available in audio format for listening as you drive the route.
By Rolla Daily News