County skirts decision on bridge|[12/20/05]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Warren County Board of Supervisors again distanced itself from specifics about the future of the U.S. 80 bridge across the Mississippi River, killing a resolution Monday that would have supported the idea of converting it to a park.

Charlotte Koestler, interim director of the Vicksburg Warren Community Alliance, read a statement touting projected economic benefits of having the bridge roadbed open to the pedestrians and urged supervisors to recognize the Vicksburg Bridge Commission’s attempts to secure federal funding to use toward it.

A motion offered by District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders to accept the resolution died when it received no second.

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&#8220One of two things will happen with the old bridge. Either the roadbed will remain unused or we’re going to see whether a bridge park is an advisable use for that structure,” Flanders said immediately after the motion died.

Koestler told supervisors, who appoint the bridge commission members and gave that panel leeway to explore park options, that a pedestrian trail and park would have an economic impact on Warren County of at least $25 million. She said it would be a lead attraction in tying Vicksburg into observing the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

&#8220The bridge is a source of community identification and pride. It is special to our community because of its majesty and historical significance,” Koestler said, adding that images of the bridge are often used in promoting tourism in the area.

After the meeting, Koestler called the experience, taken without comment or discussion, &#8220rude.”

Last week, the Vicksburg Bridge Commission voted to begin applying for a new grant in earnest, designating Jimmy G. Gouras Urban Consulting Inc. to write the application and a feasibility study be done by ABMB Engineers.

The $50 million grant will be sought through the Mississippi Department of Transportation and, if approved, will originate from a $244.1 billion highway enhancement bill passed by Congress and signed by the president in August.

&#8220I would assume all the necessary figures for proper maintenance costs are being considered in it,” District 5 Supervisor Richard George said after the meeting.

The grant application would need a sign-off by supervisors, who have indicated no unified position on the future of the 75-year-old bridge, closed to vehicular traffic since 1998, except that the roadbed cannot be reopened to vehicles.

Some supervisors have not ruled out selling the bridge to Kansas City Southern railway to pay for needed county infrastructure, including a new jail and courthouse annex if an attractive offer is made, ostensibly one higher than the $5.5 million offered by the company in 1997. KCS has pledged a lawsuit if the park idea moves forward, saying such a park would be dangerous and a violation of its lease.

After a nonbinding, countywide vote that called for reopening the bridge to traffic, supervisors dropped the idea of selling it and told the commission to work on roadbed repairs. Later, they learned that while concrete surface can be repaired, the width is too narrow for required certification and use by vehicles.

Supervisors have said a new jail and courthouse annex will cost at least $20 million.

In other business, the board: