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Update of plan for bridge in works

[10/14/2004] The 5-year-old plan to convert the U.S. 80 Mississippi River Bridge into a park for pedestrians and cyclists will be updated as a result of a Vicksburg Bridge Commission vote Wednesday.

Members chose HNTB Engineering of Vicksburg to do the work. The company also prepared the 1999 plans that called for a $2 million park with lighting, benches, landscaping and a bicycle path.

Lynn Wolfe of HNTB said the update will cost $20,000 to $40,000, but did not say how long it would take to complete. He also said that the cost of the project will likely be higher if actual work is undertaken.

Max Reed, chairman of the bridge commission, also said that the update should include options for elderly and handicap access to the bridge.

The commission was freed in July from a directive the Warren County Board of Supervisors imposed in 1999 to work toward reopening the roadbed to vehicular traffic. Supervisors issued that directive after a non-binding referendum in 1999 that showed a public preference for basic repairs as opposed to a park. The roadbed was closed in 1998 after it was deemed unsafe due to deterioration of its concrete.

The county owns the bridge and appoints bridge commissioners as managers. Commission actions must be ratified or reversed by supervisors who have given authority to study the proposed park plan, but have not agreed to convert the bridge.

Supervisors are, however, adamant the roadbed will not be reopened to traffic because the roadway, if repaired, would still be too narrow and is obsolete by today’s standards.

The plan being backed by the bridge commission is similar to the proposal made five years ago, except this time the park would end at the state line. The bridge is about 1.6 miles long, and the state line is about 1,200 feet from the Mississippi bank.

It called for an 8-foot bicycle path, a 4-foot pedestrian path and a 6-foot recreational area with benches and landscaping. The plan also called for a protective screen to separate the park from the railroad tracks that run parallel to the roadway.

Despite backing from various groups including the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, that plan was rejected by nearly 60 percent of voters. The VCVB has again voted to support the park idea citing its potential for tourism development.

In addition to updating plans to convert the bridge into a park, the commission has voted to seek bids for work to stabilize the Mississippi bank where the ground has been sliding toward the river. Plans are also being considered to repair aboutthree-fourths mile of the roadbed on the west side of the bridge where concrete chunks are falling off.