Grant sought for park on bridge|[7/14/05]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 14, 2005

Grant funding will again be pursued for a pedestrian and bicycle park across the U.S. 80 Mississippi River bridge.

Vicksburg Bridge Commission members, responsible for the upkeep of the county-owned span, agreed Wednesday to look again for possible money sources through the Mississippi Department of Transportation. “We’re going to talk to MDOT as soon as we can arrange a meeting,” Max Reed, commission chairman, said, adding that the session will be exploratory.

In 1999, the commission won a $1.7 million grant to convert the unused bridge roadway into a park under the federal Transportation Enhancement Act for the 21st Century. Those funds were lost after voters rejected the proposal, and that grant program has since ended. State officials, however, have said a new program could make money available in 2006.

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The park idea was dormant for years, but was given new life after the Warren County Board of Supervisors formally lifted its mandate that the commission focus on reopening the roadway, closed in 1998 due to deterioration of concrete.

Under the new study, members are considering a park that would extend to the Louisiana state line. It includes benches, lighting and some landscaping.

The current proposal would cost $1.5 million in addition to the other repair work that is needed. Currently projects are under way to stabilize the east bank where erosion is threatening the bridge piers and repairs to the bridge expansion joints.

Work is also needed to repair the roadbed, even through supervisors have declared it too narrow and obsolete for vehicles.

Most operational funding for the bridge comes from a per-car toll charged to Kansas City Southern for use of the railroad tracks that run parallel to the roadbed. KCS is on record opposing consideration or creation of a park, saying the county is violating lease terms and creating a safety hazard.

The rail company has promised litigation if the commission attempts to allow pedestrians on the bridge, which was privately built in 1930 and purchased by the county after World War II.