Support growing for bridge park, commission told|[12/15/05]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 15, 2005

It’s time to focus again on a pedestrian trail and park on the U.S. 80 Bridge across the Mississippi River, representatives of the Vicksburg-Warren Community Alliance told the Vicksburg Bridge Commission Wednesday.

In 1999, members of the commission, appointed by the Warren County Board of Supervisors, won approval of a federal grant based on a plan to transform the bridge for public use.

&#8220While six years has gone by, the idea presented by this document seems truer today than it was then,” said Alliance Interim Director Charlotte Koestler, referring to the application filed with the Mississippi Department of Transportation for the federal funds.

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&#8220Over the last six years, the support has grown stronger,” Koestler said. &#8220While the main benefit of the project is the enjoyment of the bridge by the citizens of Warren County, another benefit is its economic impact to our community.”

Information in the grant application said a bridge park with public access would add $24 million per year to the economy.

&#8220The consequence of not doing this project has cost the county to this present day over $100 million,” Koestler said. The Alliance is a self-formed community interest and advocacy group.

Warren County has owned the bridge since the end of World War II, when it was bought from the private investors who opened it in 1930. It continues in daily use by Kansas City Southern trains, but the narrow roadbed was closed due to deteriorating concrete in 1998 and cannot be reopened because it no longer meets minimum standards.

After a referendum on the bridge’s future, supervisors directed the commission to find a way to reopen the roadway to limited traffic, but rescinded that directive in 2004 and allowed the panel to start exploring park options.

Repairs and erosion controls have also been major projects of the commission.

Wednesday, Ray Duncan, a supporter of the bridge park, urged the Commission to diligently pursue new federal funds. Also at the meeting were Rosalie Theobald, director of the Main Street program and Christi Kilroy, special projects director for the City of Vicksburg.

&#8220Every day without action is a lost opportunity,” Koestler said, adding that 20 civic organizations are in support of the bridge park. Representatives from the city’s bed and breakfast businesses and Mississippi River Tours were also present.

Kansas City Southern, which once won commission approval to buy the bridge in a deal axed by supervisors due to public objection, opposes any park or plan that would have people on the bridge, saying it is a violation of the company’s lease. KCS, also in a fee dispute with the commission, has pledged a lawsuit to stop any park construction.

&#8220We want to do something,” said Robert Moss, commission chairman, who said he planned to meet with supervisors who have an informal session today.

The commission will resume its meeting Friday at 10 a.m., in part because a decision on whether to seek federal dollars in the next funding cycle must be made by January.

In other business, Rudy McLellan of HNTB engineers said, after completing the bridge’s annual inspection, he found the bridge is still safe for traffic.

&#8220Essentially the bridge is in good to fair condition,” McLellan said. &#8220However, there’s places where there are serious problems, in particular the east approach and pier 2.”

Boh Brothers Construction of New Orleans has begun work on the east approach.

Work is also being done to pier 2, which McLellan said has been moving to the west.

&#8220In last year’s annual report, pier 2 had stopped moving westerly for about a year,” he said. &#8220This year, though, it again started moving westerly at about a 1.4 inch clip like it did in previous years. The problem with that is it’s causing the joint to crush or compress.”

The Bridge Commission must now decide how to repair span 1 on the bridge, which McLellan said is in desperate need of work not now under contract.