Bridge Commission’s chief says he won’t discuss span

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 12, 2000

Vicksburg Bridge Commission Chairman Raymond Ray said Wednesday the panel’s records will be open, but there will be no more published comments from him on the U.S. 80 Mississippi River Bridge.

“As far as I’m concerned, the minutes are open and I’ll never give you anything again,” Ray said.

Ray, also designated to speak for the other appointed members of the commission that manages the county-owned bridge, was joined by commissioner Patricia Segrest in saying The Vicksburg Post had misrepresented the intention of the commission in getting an estimate to remove the bridge and its supports.

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The Sept. 14 article, following the commission’s last monthly meeting, reported that Ray had received a letter from the Baton Rouge engineering firm, HNTB, with a $4 million estimate to repair the bridge superstructure and a $2 million estimate to tear down the 70-year-old structure.

“I took some heat last month not only from District 2 and the community, but from the supervisors because of an article that was in the paper,” Segrest said.

Ray did not dispute the accuracy of the information or the quote that was attributed to him.

“I made the statement that some day, some time, somewhere, it’s going to have to be taken down,” he said Wednesday.

Five days later, Warren County supervisors said they had not requested the estimate and supervisors did not know the commissioners had asked for figures to tear down the bridge.

“What went out to the community is that we are ready to tear down the bridge and that’s not true,” Segrest said. “I took offense to it because I didn’t have to take that heat.”

The $2 million estimate was not discussed by the commission during the open meeting in September. It was included as an agenda item and was included in a packet given to each member of the commission. The panel took no action concerning the estimates at either meeting.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the commission received an update from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concerning a study of the bridge’s superstructure. A copy of the report was given to each commission member and read silently by each, but the information was not included in the minutes of the meeting.

The Corps is studying a problem with a pier that has been shifting for years. Both HNTB and Neel-Schaffer Inc. of Jackson have recommended the bridge remain closed until those repairs are made and because of the narrow width of the roadway.

The future of the bridge became an issue in the community after plans to sell the span became public in 1997 with a $5.5 million offer from Kansas City Southern Railway. Those plans were dropped by supervisors who, 11 months ago, asked voters to recommend a course of action. A majority said the bridge roadway should be repaired and reopened. The roadway has been closed for three years and remains closed because of deterioration to the roadway.