Gatesville, County at odds over maintenance of historic bridge

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GATESVILLE, Texas (KWTX) Coryell County and the City of Gatesville have reached an impasse concerning which entity should be responsible for the care and maintenance of a historic bridge that spans the Leon River.

Coryell County commissioners have terminated a bridge contract with the City of Gatesville.

The bridge, built in 1904, has been a topic of interest for many years and it remains one of the only bridges of its kind still standing in the state.

During the April 25th commissioners meeting, the board unanimously voted 3-0 to opt out of the inter-local agreement that dates back to Jan. 10, 1994.

According to the original agreement, the City of Gatesville owns the 1904 Leon River Bridge and the county was responsible for maintain it.

County Judge John Firth said back in September the bridge was unusable because the commissioners said it was not structurally sound.

The bridge has been closed for about nine months.

Gatesville city manager Bill Parry said he realized the city can't afford to repair the bridge right now.

Parry is in talks with the Texas Department of Transportation about building a new bridge near the current one.

TxDOT is looking to hire a bridge design firm for replacement bridge.

Parry said it could be until January 2017 or next spring until any potential designs are known.

"When that design comes in TxDOT will have determined they have the most optimum design for the bridge and that will then tell us what we have to do in terms of the city as far as utilities, right-of-way and some others," Parry said.

Parry said TxDOT has no intention to tear down the historical bridge.

He estimated the proposed future bridge which would be constructed near the existing one lane bridge could cost at least $700 million dollars, mainly funded by TxDOT.

Commissioners closed the 112-year-old bridge after they became concerned about the integrity of the steel and wood structure.

Gatesville native Roger Miller, a member of the Facebook Group, 'Save the 1904 Leon River Bridge' filed two complaints with Firth about the closure of the bridge.

Miller said both complaints were rejected because Firth said they were not in compliance with the law.

Back in September, citizens told commissioners the old bridge may be among the most often inspected in Texas because the Texas Department of Transportation routinely hired a private company to inspect the bridge.

Miller provided an April 2014 Bridge Inspection Record from TxDOT which showed when the bridge was last inspected.

The report used a number rating system, 9 being 'excellent condition' and zero being 'failed condition'.

Parts of the bridge were given a 6 which was a 'satisfactory condition, minor deterioration of structural elements.'

"It's historical in the aspect of, if I'm remembering correctly there are only 18 functioning Pratt through truss bridges remaining in the state...they're not going to make any more of them and we certainly don't want to see anything negative happen to this one. It's a balance of preservation of history while you modernize. I'm all for the Internet but I'm also all for an old bridge."

A state historical marker at the bridge says the structure was built by the George E. King Bridge Company, of Des Moines, Iowa, and that it opened to traffic in 1904.

The bridge is of steel construction with a wooden deck and lattice-work railing, sitting atop members connected by steel pins and graced by stone structured abutments at either end.

It is a 137-foot-long Pratt through truss span with a 5-foot timber approach and is one of just a few such bridges that remain standing in Texas.

It is a recorded Texas landmark.

It also is the only east-west bridge other than the U.S. Highway 84 Bridge that crosses the Leon River in Gatesville.