Mystery Bridge Nr. 45: The Disappearing Bridge at Schoolfield Road

Schoolfield Road Bridge in Clay County, Missouri Photo taken by Clark Vance in November 2013

How long does it take for an abandoned bridge to be ignored before it becomes an important agenda on the desk of the local government? And what actions are usually taken when the issue comes about and why?

It is very hard to tell, really. Some bridges are usually left in place for pedestrian use for many years before they are closed off and eventually either renovated, replaced or even removed. But they can take many years- at least seven to ten. But why ignore the bridge before it becomes an issue?  Could be for money reasons. However, it could also be a question of political tactics where the structure deteriorates to a point where it becomes a liability and then they apply for state and federal aid.

The Schoolfield Road Bridge presents a rather peculiar scenario that justifies a mystery article to find out what exactly happened to the structure. Spanning Williams Creek at Rocky Hollow Lake west of Excelsior Springs in Clay County, Missouri, this double-intersecting Pratt pony truss bridge was built in the 1930s and featured riveted connections. The truss span was 60 feet long, whereas the total length was 91 feet. The bridge was last photographed by Clark Vance in November 2013. As of July of this year, the new bridge has taken its place and is open to traffic.

Is this normal?

If we look at the situation and compare, it is anything but that. According to satellite findings, the bridge was intact with a deck in 2009, damaged by flooding in 2010, stripped of its decking and approach spans in 2011, and was last seen in this manner in November 2013. Judging by the overgrowth that had covered the road approaching the bridge, the truss bridge had to have been closed to all traffic for five to six years, which is also less than the normal time needed to ignore the bridge before it is eventually removed and/or replaced.  Apart from one theory that it may have been destroyed by flooding earlier this year, it is possible that attempts had been made in 2011 to remove the bridge, yet it failed due to either the county lacking funds for the project or the contractor going bankrupt and not finishing the job. In either case, it was rather weird to strip the bridge down to its truss structure and leave it as is, unless the county wanted to make sure that everyone stayed off of it until there was enough funding and a contractor to finish the job of replacing the bridge. Yet logically speaking, it would have made sense to remove the entire structure as is and left the road abandoned until there was a chance to bridge it again.  In either case, there was a motive behind rapidly swapping the steel truss for a slab of concrete, given its proximity to the lake and the potential to redevelop the area.

So what was the story behind the bridge at Schoolfield Road? How did it go from a normal bridge that was safe enough for crossing or even fishing to one that was partially demolished but was left sitting in place, to a hunk of concrete in a span of four years? And for the latter part, how did the bridge be replaced in such a quick time? Any ideas, post your comments here at the Chronicles or through James Baughn’s website.

Eventually the truth will be revealed as to what happened to this rather normal truss bridge, and with that, consequences will come about as to how to take better care of bridges and to a certain degree, our infrastructure, for after discussing this topic for many years since the I-35W Bridge disaster in Minneapolis in 2007, we still have some problems to be solved which deals with our inability to maintain even the basic aspects.

The author wishes to thank Clark Vance for the use of this photo. More photos of the bridge can be found in the website, by clicking here.

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