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Over the River Run barely gets approval

marmstrong@vicksburgpost.com

The Vicksburg Bridge Commission gave the most tentative nod possible for permission to use the U.S. 80 Mississippi River span for the annual Over the River Run.

The five-member board that oversees the operation and maintenance of the county-owned bridge voted 2-1 Wednesday in favor of the annual event. Two members of the commission abstained, and Ray Wade, the newest member, voted against opening the bridge for a charity fund-raiser held in the fall.

“I just have a problem with it,” Wade said. “If the citizens of Warren County want to walk out on it and enjoy the bridge, they should be able to, but they can’t.”

About 500 people participate in the walk and race events across the bridge. Plans are now being made for the 15th year of the event scheduled for Sept. 6.

Anyone wanting to use the bridge must obtain insurance that frees the commission from liability. Getting that insurance is one reason why most smaller groups steer clear of the U.S. 80 bridge.

The Over the River Run is sponsored by River Region Health Systems, which provides a $1 million per incident insurance policy.

Commission Chairman Max Reed abstained from the vote, as is the tradition of the commission chairman, although not in the commission by-laws, except to break a tie. Commission member Patricia Segrest abstained from the vote as she has in the previous years, citing concerns about safety.

“I’m a nervous wreck until everyone is off the bridge,” Segrest said.

Wade said that if the insurance requirements would prevent a citizen from being able to walk out onto the bridge on any sunny afternoon, then he also is against giving permission to larger groups.

The 72-year-old bridge has been closed to motor vehicles since 1998 because of deterioration of the concrete roadbed. Train tracks remain in use.

In 1999, supervisors polled voters on the November ballot asking if the bridge should be sold, opened to traffic or converted into a park.

Citizens voted nearly 2-1 in favor of reopening the span for vehicular traffic. Supervisors also voted 4-1 to open the bridge for two-way traffic.

Since that time, problems have been found with the structure, including shifting piers that support the roadbed and railroad tracks. Some repairs have been made in the last year, but $2.8 million in work is still needed to make the roadbed safe for cars and trucks.

Wade said he favors working toward getting the bridge opened to traffic and doesn’t see it becoming, as some have suggested, a public park.

Commission members are appointed by supervisors.