JEFFERSON CITY - Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, asked the Senate Thursday whether a bike trail or a cancer hospital would be a better use of state's money.
Schaefer criticized the use of federal grant money to secure a 78-year-old bridge bridge over the Missouri River for the city of Boonville to integrate the historic structure into the Katy Trail.
The Missouri Department of Transportation will give $23 million in federal stimulus funds to Union Pacific for construction of a second rail bridge over the Osage River. As part of this deal, Union Pacific will sell the historic bridge to Boonville for a dollar.
Schaefer said Gov. Jay Nixon's priorities are mixed up, and the money would be better spent on a new cancer hospital in the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center.
"That money's sitting in the bank," Schaefer said. "We've appropriated it, and the governor won't write that check."
Nixon spokesman Scott Holste, however, said the money the state received must be spent "specifically for railroad projects."
"This is the bridge that will take out the last bottleneck (in rail service) between Jefferson City and St. Louis," Holste said.
"The project will construct a second railroad bridge and provide double tracks on both sides of the bridge for a distance of approximately .5 miles. When completed, there will be all double track from Jefferson City to St. Louis," according to a Transportation Department application form.
Schaefer said the Coast Guard has declared the bridge a hazard to navigation and likened it to the Alaskan "Bridge to Nowhere," popularized during the 2008 Presidential Election.
"At least you could drive over that," Schaefer said, adding that even pedestrians cannot cross the bridge currently.
Schaefer also said he has extreme doubt Boonville will raise the money needed to rehabilitate the bridge for the Katy Trail.
"We're going to FedEx a check overnight to Union Pacific for $23 million dollars so that the state of Missouri can take on that bridge, which I will guarantee you 25 years from now -- if this goes through -- will look exactly like it looks right now."
The city of Boonville has already allocated a portion of money needed to rehabilitate the bridge, Holste said. Concrete action, however, must come from Boonville, not the state.
"The ball will be in the court of the city of Boonville," Holste said.