Bridge repairs would cost $13 million

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 11, 2003

[12/11/03]New long-term repair estimates to the U.S. 80 Mississippi River Bridge have grown to $13 million while bridge commission members continue to look for answers to pier movements.

The Vicksburg Bridge Commission voted Wednesday to pay the Baton Rouge engineering firm HNTB to draw up a plan to increase per-car tolls charged to the railroad for use of the bridge to cover the estimated costs of repairs.

Today, the toll is $4 per car and generates about $90,000 monthly, but new repair costs could easily tap out the commission’s $6 million in savings. Commission members took no action to start repairs, but were told of more problems being caused by the westward movement of two bridge supports.

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Bridge employees noted a growing gap now about an inch wide between sections of the 73-year-old roadbed.

“This is serious,” said bridge superintendent Herman Smith.

The commission spent $1.3 million last year on repairs needed due to the shifting piers, but still have no answers to what is causing the movement. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has been studying the problem after similar movement was discovered in the 30-year-old Interstate 20 bridge. Commissioners want to know the cause before moving ahead with repairs.

Cars and trucks use the I-20 bridge. The U.S. 80 bridge has a roadbed, but it was closed in 1998 due to deterioration, and only trains cross the Mississippi on the older bridge. Both have been determined to be structurally sound.

Movement has been measured in Piers 1 and 2, the first two concrete supports in the river off the east bank, and are literally pulling the bridge apart. Smith said cables connecting sections of the bridge are holding it together.

HNTB is also conducting a fatigue factor study after Kansas City Southern Railway reported 26.5 million tons of cargo crossing the bridge annually.

The fate of the county-owned bridge, managed by the commission, has been the subject of debate since a 1999 public vote to reopen the span to traffic. The problems with the shifting piers were not discovered until after that vote.

Although commission members said nothing about reopening the bridge at Wednesday’s meeting, the latest repair estimate did include $2 million to repair the roadbed.