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Bridge panel to study emergency openings

[11/15/01]The Vicksburg Bridge Commission will write letters to Louisiana and Mississippi transportation officials to see if there is any interest in making plans to use the U.S. 80 bridge in an emergency.

Warren County has owned the bridge since 1947, and it was the only way to cross the Mississippi River at Vicksburg until the Interstate 20 bridge opened in 1972. The old bridge has been closed to all traffic for the past three years because the roadway and two of the support piers need repair.

The bridge commission is having the piers repaired at an estimated cost of $220,000. A contractor has been chosen and will begin work as soon as the commission’s engineer, HNTB of Baton Rouge, completes specifications.

In 1999, Warren County residents voted in a non-binding referendum for the bridge to be reopened to traffic. It has remained closed.

Others have suggested the bridge be converted into a walkway with a parklike atmosphere or a bicycle trail.

Commission Chairman Hugh “Winkie” Freeman opened the discussion by relating to commissioners the attempt to use the old bridge when the I-20 bridge had to be closed Oct. 18 when a jack failed while it was being used to lift the roadway for repairs. The bridge was opened to one-way, eastbound light traffic briefly before Louisiana authorities closed the western approach.

“This is going to happen again,” said Commissioner Max Reed. “I don’t know when or exactly how, but it’s going to happen again.”

He then said a plan of what to do needs to be developed and the participation of Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development officials needs to be sought.

After further discussion, Freeman suggested that Mississippi Department of Transportation also be brought into the planning.

The commission then decided to have its attorney, Bobby Bailess, write LDOTD and MDOT to survey interest in working up a plan to allow the use of the old bridge.

Some of the things the commission wants specified in any plan are whether the bridge is to be used just for westbound traffic, just for eastbound, for both and what types of situations will constitute an emergency.