JEFFERSON COUNTY, Mo. ( -- More than a dozen Jefferson County families have no access to paramedics, police or the fire department at a time when many are concerned about health and safety.

81-year-old Jim Churchill can no longer drive to his home near Hillsboro. The low water bridge that connects Shelle Estates with the outside world is crumbling and what's left is hollowed out underneath.

“I’m trying to walk my handicap father across a dangerous bridge that's been washed out, he lives at the top of the hill,” said Churchill.

Elderly and disabled residents must walk across this structure each time they go home. The lucky ones have cars parked on both sides. 

Churchill's daughter, Melissa Reeves, fears what could happen.

“If there's an emergency of any kind, a fire, heart attack, a child hurting themselves, no emergency vehicles...The fire can't get up there,” Reeves said.

The neighborhood is located in the Cedar Hill Fire Protection District. An assistant chief told News 4 his equipment can't cross the bridge in its current state. Low water crossings aren't uncommon in Jefferson County and they can pose issues in multiple fire districts.

Churchill believes that because the creek pushes a lot of force against the bridge. But according to the Army Corp of Engineers, they are not responsible for maintenance in this watershed, including keeping a privately owned and constructed bridge free of debris or water and that's an important point here.

According to Jefferson County Public Works, the bridge is private, not public.

According to homeowners, there is an HOA fee but News 4 was told there's nowhere near enough money to construct a new bridge that could easily bring a six figure price tag. Some residents seemed confused, a bridge like this could be private because so many homes depend on it.

“I feel like Jefferson County should take responsibility for this. We have a lot of residents that pay taxes and have absolutely no emergency vehicle service, no police, no fire, no ambulance service. No access to that,” a nearby resident told News 4.

Jefferson County actually has a program that allows residents to petition for the county to take over private roads. Since 2018, nearly 200 petitions have been filed, 71 have been approved, but this project doesn't qualify because the road leading to the crossing is made of gravel, not a hard surface.

According to public works, there could be one way to help, but it would require an order from the governor.

"If there was a public declaration from the state that said Jefferson County had severe storm damage and it caused this problem, we can step in and help, but we are not under any sort of disaster declaration so we don't have the authority to do it," said Jason Jonas, Public Works Director of Jefferson County.

The road continues to be a hazard and the residents fear the road will continue to get worse.

News 4 reached out to the governor's office. A spokesperson said they weren't aware of the situation or suggestion that a disaster declaration might help. MoDOT said there's no federal funding available for a project like this one.

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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