Bridge panel gets go-ahead for decision

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 20, 2004

[4/20/04]A 1999 directive to the Vicksburg Bridge Commission to work toward opening the old U.S. 80 Bridge to two-way vehicle traffic at any cost was formally rescinded by the Warren County Board of Supervisors Monday by a 4-1 vote.

The action was greeted with pleasure by the president of the commission that operates the bridge, saying the move allows the commission flexibility.

The bridge over the Mississippi River was completed by private investors in 1930. It was later purchased by Warren County, and the commission was created to oversee its operation by imposing tolls to pay back the purchase price and then to fund maintenance.

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The bridge remained in heavy, daily use until 1972 when the Interstate 20 bridge opened downstream. After that, the bridge carried only local traffic between Vicksburg and nearby communities in Madison Parish, La., until 1998 when it was closed because of deterioration of the roadbed. Trains of the Kansas City Southern Railway have continued to use the bridge daily. The railroad also won a commission vote to purchase the bridge, but supervisors balked after public sentiment arose against a sale and many favored transforming the span into a park.

It was after that supervisors agreed to ask voters what they thought about the bridge’s future and a majority favored repairing and reopening the roadbed, and supervisors directed the commission to do so. Five years of studies and discussions have followed.

“The bridge commission has asked us to rescind the 1999 directive,” said District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders, bringing up the matter at Monday’s meeting of the supervisors.

Flanders pointed out the bridge commission’s engineering firm, HNTB, has determined the bridge was functionally obsolete for today’s motor vehicle traffic because of the narrow width of the roadway.

District 2 Supervisor Michael Mayfield objected after Flanders formally made the motion and it was seconded by District 1 Supervisor David McDonald.

“I believe the voters of Warren County had enough sense to read three options and make up their minds,” Mayfield said, referring to the nonbinding referendum.

When the vote was finally taken, the vote was 4-1 with Mayfield in dissent.

“That will certainly be welcome,” said Max Reed, president of the Vicksburg Bridge Commission.

He said the supervisors’ action now gives the five-member commission the latitude to consider other options.

“One option is to open it to two-way traffic. Another option is to open it to one-way traffic. Another option is to open it to some combination of pedestrian and biking trails,” Reed said, noting there is a fourth option: leaving the bridge roadway closed.

He said the commission, knowing the supervisors planned to meet Monday and could take up the request, adjourned its meeting last Wednesday until 3 p.m. this Wednesday.

In other action the board:

Awarded a contract for the Bowie-Oak Ridge Road intersection improvement project to APAC-Mississippi Inc. for $370,828.85. The county received bids from three other companies, and Murray Stewart, district State Aid engineer, recommended awarding the bid to APAC, the low bidder.

Awarded a contract for paving the entrance road to the LeTourneau Boat Landing to Camo Construction Co. of Vidalia, La., for $80,400.75, pending approval of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

Took under advisement two bids on a motor grader from Tubb Equipment for $129,000 and Puckett Machinery for $153,505 pending analysis by the county Purchasing Department.