The fate of the Grotto Bridge over the Little Piney Creek west of Newburg is a little more clear now that Phelps County Commissioners have approved a petition to vacate a section of the road where the bridge is located.

At the commission’s Thursday morning meeting, all three commissioners approved a petition signed by 12 residents in the Arlington Township to vacate the section of County Road 7530 between the north right-of-way line of State Highway P and a point 225 feet south of the south right-of-way line of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad.

This section includes the Grotto Bridge that was closed by a commission order on Dec. 15, 2009, after a Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) engineer inspected it and suggested the bridge’s lifespan was over.

The section of County Road 7530 that was vacated is described by the commission as “useless” and that the cost of repairing of the road and bridge would be “an unreasonable burden upon the road district.”

By vacating the section of road, it will revert back to the adjacent property owners, which is the Richard J. Myers family.

The commission approved the vacation petition subject to the county counselor’s agreement to a real estate option and the Myers family signing it.

The real estate option states that the Myers family would give the county the option of reacquiring the section of road and right-of-way at any time in the future should funds become available to repair or replace the Grotto Bridge and maintain the road.

Presiding Commissioner Randy Verkamp noted that “we (the county) can retrieve the right-of-way without cost or legal action on both parties.”

While there would be no cost to the county to acquire the right-of-way needed, the real estate option states that the county will pay the Myers family $10 to preserve the option to acquire it later.

District Two Commissioner Gary Hicks asked that language be included in the real estate option that the Myers family cooperate in the future with the county by providing right-of-way at a more favorable location for a new bridge near the existing crossing. Hicks said if an engineer finds a more suitable place for a new bridge, it could potentially lower the cost of a new bridge.

Hicks said the current bridge is at a bend in the creek and that is a poor location for such a structure.

Attorney J. Kent Robinson drew up the real estate option but said he did so as an area resident near the bridge. Robinson also was among the 12 residents who signed the petition to vacate the section of road. It was noted that because the bridge is on the Myers property, the family would be liable, according to Robinson.

Earlier this month, it was mentioned that the Myers family has offered to enter into an agreement with neighbors or any member of the public and offer them the right to use the bridge as private property for an annual fee.

Verkamp thanked the Myers family members for their cooperation and allowing local traffic to use that facility.

“For the short term, the county would be relieved of the responsibility of the bridge and it would provide the locals an opportunity to use the bridge privately if that is your desire,” Verkamp said. “In the event money starts pouring out of the sky, the bridge ... will be the first to catch it.”

Hicks agreed with Verkamp and said, “I think it accomplishes our goal, for one thing, to rid the county of what I consider a huge liability, and in another way to maintain the option of providing access to that valley (north of the bridge) through other means than that steep road that’s going to be tough to get in and out of in the winter.

“If we saw a grant out there that would accomplish that goal of building a bridge down there, we’d go after that,” Hicks added.

William Doyle, who lives near the bridge and attended Thursday’s meeting, asked who will be looking for funds for the new bridge. Doyle also asked if a cheaper bridge could be built than one estimated to cost $750,000, according to what an engineer told the commission previously.

Verkamp said the commissioners will look and residents near the bridge are welcome to come up with ideas.

“We have some money. Our problem is we’ve got bridges that have so much more traffic on them and more folks dependent on them than the one at the grotto,” Verkamp said. “We’ve been to the Army. We’ve been to the state. We’ve been just about everywhere we can think of, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a rock we haven’t looked under.”

Verkamp said the commission agrees with everyone’s wish that a nice bridge be built in the area, “but right now, this is probably the best option.”

“We’ve got some other bridges out there that are probably on a higher-need basis,” said District One Commissioner Larry Stratman, adding that to build a new bridge at its current location would cost about twice or three times as much as some other bridges in the county that need be replaced.

Stratman noted that if the county accepts federal funds for a bridge, it must meet federal requirements, and one of the biggest expenses of building a new bridge at that location is raising it out of the floodplain.