Supervisors cite new controversy over old bridge

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Getting a price to remove the U.S. 80 Mississippi River bridge was news to them, Warren County supervisors said Monday.

Members of the Vicksburg Bridge Commission, who obtained the estimate, may have ignited at new controversy, something District 2 Supervisor Michael Mayfield said the county doesn’t need.

“There are more than a few people who are upset,” Mayfield said. “The comment that was made has upset a lot of citizens.”

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The county owns the bridge, and supervisors appoint bridge commission members to manage it.

In a letter dated Aug. 18 from the Baton Rouge firm HNTB, engineers estimated the cost of removing the 70-year-old bridge and its supports to be half of the cost to make repairs. The letter was addressed to Raymond Ray, chairman of the Vicksburg Bridge Commission.

Board president Richard George said supervisors had not requested the estimate and that the board did not know that commissioners had asked for figures to tear down the bridge.

“We need to find out what their official position is,” George said.

Removing the bridge would leave Vicksburg without a rail crossing. Dozens of trains and cargo routes would have to be shifted to Baton Rouge or Memphis.

After last Wednesday’s meeting, Ray said the removal estimate was only for future reference and planning. The commission has taken no official action concerning the estimate.

“Somewhere down the line, we know we’re going to have to tear it down,” Ray had said.

“I feel like I have been hung out to dry,” Mayfield said Monday. “I don’t have the slightest idea where this has come from.”

Public interest in the bridge, owned by the county since 1947, came to a peak in 1997 after a county plan to sell the bridge to Kansas City Southern Railway became public. After those plans were dropped, public attention turned to the future of the bridge, including possible use as a park.

Last November, a majority of county voters said in a non-binding referendum that they’d like to see the bridge roadbed repaired and reopened and supervisors voted to move in that direction. The roadway has been closed for three years because of deterioration to the roadway.

The cost of repairing the roadway and opening the bridge has been estimated at $2.8 million over a five-year period, but those estimates were made over four years ago and could be higher now.

Funding for the bridge repairs would come out of bridge commission reserves, now about $5.5 million.