Mayfield was one of the four supervisors who voted in favor of reopening the bridge to two-way traffic, but two of the four are no longer on the board.

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 30, 2000

Former District 5 Supervisor Royce Eaves was another supporter of opening the bridge, but did not seek re-election. He was replaced by Richard George, who now serves as the board president.

Dwight Woodward of District 1 became a vocal advocate to reopen the bridge after the election, but had lost his bid for the Republican nomination to David McDonald two months before. Woodward had been the representative for the Culkin area where Stewart lives.

“It would be hard for me to vote to open it for two-way traffic considering the liability,” McDonald said. “Maybe we can open it for one-way traffic.”

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District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale voted in favor of opening the bridge, but cast the single vote against two-way traffic.

Since supervisors voted to reopen the bridge, the bridge commission has authorized three engineering reports to study the safety of the span.

In one, Neel-Schaffer Engineers Inc. of Jackson recommended the bridge remain closed to traffic until repairs are made to a pier that supports the tracks and the roadway. It has shifted about three inches since 1997. The reports also recommend that the bridge not be opened for two-way traffic because of the roadway’s narrow width.

“I cannot believe that this board would open any facility for use by the people if it knew it to be unsafe and that people might be hurt or killed,” said Ray Duncan.

Like Stewart, Duncan opposed selling the bridge in 1997, but does not support reopening it to traffic. He was one of the spokesmen for the group called The Friends of the Bridge, who supported converting the bridge into a pedestrian and bicycle park using a $1.7 million federal grant.

Speaking before supervisors at a recent meeting, Duncan said he doubts the bridge will ever be reopened.

“Make no mistake about it, repairing the bridge will not make it safe to be reopened for two-way traffic,” he said.

A separate study is being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine the cause of the problems with the pier. The Corps’ most recent report is the pier has not moved any since the Corps began monitoring it.

The Baton Rouge engineering firm HNTB estimated it would cost $4 million to repair the pier and a railroad support that have been sinking since the bridge was built. Separately, the cost to repair the roadway has been estimated at $2.8 million over a five-year period.

“They’ve let the roadway deteriorate until it’s not safe,” Stewart said. “They just keep getting reports and ignoring them and getting more reports.”

According to special legislation passed in 1926 by Congress, no tax dollars can ever be spent on the bridge. Funding for repair and maintenance to the bridge come from KCS. The rail company pays a per-car toll for use of the bridge and holds a 999-year lease.

Any repairs to the bridge would have to come from the commission’s reserves, about $5.5 million.

“Their own engineers have said the bridge can be repaired, gave them an estimate and they have the money,” Stewart said.

Most recently, the bridge commission received a $2 million estimate to remove the bridge. Commissioners have said they have no intention of tearing down the bridge, but obtained the estimate for long-range planning purposes.

Meanwhile, Stewart said she will not be content to sit back and wait for something to happen.

“I stop everybody I can and talk to them about the bridge,” she said. “But I can’t do it by myself.”