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Report: More bike lanes needed along river

Published 1:29 am Sunday, July 13, 2014

More biking trails across and along the Mississippi River would spur local economies and improve public health in the river region, according to an assessment of river recreation released Friday.
Aside from the Harahan Bridge in Memphis — where an old roadway is being turned into a bike path for cyclists and pedestrians — a report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and conservationists noted places like the old U.S. 80 bridge across the Mississippi River in Vicksburg should be cycle-friendly.
“There are only short stretches of the MRT (Mississippi River Trail) that offer views of the Mississippi River,” read part of the 33-page Lower Mississippi River Resource Assessment, an effort of the Corps’ Memphis District, National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, Mississippi River Corridor and Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee.
“There are no bridges over the river currently open to bicycles,” the report said. “The old railroad bridge at Vicksburg has been opened to bicycles for special events and there is interest in opening it permanently. Bicyclists need more bike lanes and dedicated bike trails so that people of all ages and abilities are better able to enjoy the LMRR.”
The 1.6-mile, 84-year-old structure owned by Warren County closed to vehicles in 1998 over safety concerns, but the driving surface has become a popular place in the past four years for special events in addition to the Over The River Run. That list includes 5K walks, the Bricks and Spokes ride to promote downtown, and a breast cancer benefit featuring bras strung onto the old road’s railing.
The report, the second of three under its funding source from the 2000 Water Resources Development Act, will go into a comprehensive plan to guide management of the lower river system. Its authors call outdoor recreation important for public health, noting five of the seven states in the lower river region rank in the top 10 nationally for obesity and physical inactivity among adults.
Two efforts to fund a bicycle park on the old bridge in Vicksburg with federal highway money have petered out due to vociferous opposition from Kansas City Southern Railroad citing safety as a reason. The most recent was in 2006, when KCS opposed it in writing to state and federal legislators from Vicksburg, MDOT and then-Gov. Haley Barbour.
The Harahan bridge, owned by Union Pacific Railroad, carries trains across the river between Memphis and West Memphis, Ark. The railroad agreed in 2011 to the bike path concept. A year later, the City of Memphis won a $14.9 million grant from the Department of Transportation’s economic recovery-based “TIGER” program to fund half the $30 million project, expected to be completed this year.