Bridge panel pays bill to railway

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 15, 2002

[02/14/02] An old bill was paid by the Vicksburg Bridge Commission Wednesday, but not until after an hour of closed discussions.

Kansas City Southern Railway, the commission’s largest customer for use of the bridge across the Mississippi River, will be paid $356,512.85 for replacing railroad crossties under the tracks it uses.

Bobby Bailess, attorney for the commission, said the figure matched a September 1999 estimate for replacing 1,205 crossties and some other work.

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The bridge opened in 1930 as a privately operated highway and rail crossing of the Mississippi River and completed the first paved, all-weather road route across America.

After World War II, the Warren County Board of Supervisors bought the bridge and created the commission to manage it as if it were a business. Tolls paid off the purchase price and continuing assessments are used for upkeep. Due to deterioration, the concrete roadbed was closed in 1998.

As for the rail work, it was decided the rail company could do the work itself.

After the track work was done, the commission asked for an accounting before paying the bill. The railroad submitted documents that left members of the board confused about what they were being asked to pay for. It took until Wednesday’s meeting for commission members to become comfortable with paying the 1999 estimate, Bailess said.

KCS, which pays a fee for each rail car that crosses the bridge, offered to buy the bridge outright several years ago. The commission and supervisors initially agreed, but the $5 million deal fell through due to public opposition. Since then, a 1999 vote suggested supervisors reopen the roadbed to vehicles and, in turn, supervisors voted to do so. No action has been taken on the roadbed, however, with research on a shifting pier cited as the reason.

Bailess also said the commission still has an estimate in hand that was submitted in 1994 for about $250,000 that still remains to be resolved.

In other actions, the commission:

Approved payment of the claims docket, payroll, insurance and taxes.

Heard a report from Billy Wilson, commission secretary, concerning a bill from the commission’s engineering firm HTNB of Baton Rouge for $7,813.69 for an inspection of the bridge after a tow hit the bridge in December. Wilson said the inspection found no damage in need of repair and the bill will be paid by Memco Barge Co. of Chesterfield, Mo., operator of the towboat.