THE BRIDGE-Rails, utilities pay for upkeep|[6/20/05]

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 20, 2005

In 1967, nearly 40 years after it opened, tolls to cross the U.S. 80 bridge ceased being collected. The bonds and interest for its purchase had been paid off.

Today, even without the tolls, the bridge continues to make money. But its owner, Warren County, is legally bound to invest all income back into maintenance and operations.

“There are four fiber optic cables on the bridge,” said Herman Smith, bridge superintendent. “The bridge makes $82,000 a year off the cable, plus a natural gas pipeline.” The cables bring in $52,000, and the pipeline, $30,000.

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One of the cables is owned by the Vicksburg Bridge Commission. The other three are property of AT&T, BellSouth and Interstate FiberNet. The money collected from those three cables increases by about 2 or 3 percent each year.

“If the bridge fell in, you would have gas cut off to the city,” Smith said. “You would lose communication of all kinds.”

The commission draws most of its revenue from the Kansas City Southern Railroad, about $1.1 million a year. The bridge collects $4 for each railroad car that passes over the bridge. When the number of cars exceeds 125,000, the toll drops to $3.75. An average of 300,000 train cars cross the bridge each year.

“They have a counter over on the other side of the bridge,” Smith said. “It’s done electronically.”

The bridge is the only rail crossing from Memphis to Baton Rouge.

Its existence is invaluable, Smith said.

“You would lose commerce coming across here,” he said. “Plus, if it fell just right, towboats couldn’t pass.”

Smith said there’s no telling how much boat traffic passes under the old bridge. “I wouldn’t even be able to count it,” he said.

The Vicksburg Bridge Commission operates on a budget of about $1 million a year. Revenue from the railroad and utilities helps maintain the bridge.

THE SERIES

In recognition of the 75th anniversary of the opening of the U.S. 80 Bridge over the Mississippi River, The Vicksburg Post is spending a week looking at the old bridge, its operations and history. Many of the photographs accompanying the stories were taken by Post presentation editor Marty Kittrell, who gingerly took his camera 110 feet to the top of the span, offering rarely seen views.