County backs park plan for bridge|[7/18/06]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 18, 2006

An attempt to convert the roadbed of the Old Mississippi River Bridge into a pedestrian park gained strength Monday when Warren County supervisors passed a resolution in support of the long-discussed idea.

The vote of commitment was procedural in nature but had been sought by Jimmy G. Gouras Urban Planning Consultants Inc. to help the application go forward before the July 31 filing deadline.

The Vicksburg Bridge Commission passed a similar measure last week.

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As was the case with the county-appointed commission, the vote was 4-1. District 2 Supervisor William Banks cast the nay vote, citing much the same safety and liability concerns that other skeptics of the idea have voiced.

&#8220I’m still concerned about the liability,” Banks said. &#8220I don’t see how someone would just sue a bridge commission.”

Banks also said the public should also have a chance to specifically vote on the current park plan.

Supervisors who voted for the measure generally support the idea in principle. One, District 5 Supervisor Richard George, said later he doubted the full grant would be approved because of other needed infrastructure in the state, such as those areas rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.

At the insistence of District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon, the board set a special meeting date of July 25 at 6 p.m. to have members of the commission present the details to the board and the public.

&#8220I just want a chance to let the public know what we’re doing,” Selmon said.

District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders was the lone vote against having the meeting, saying later that the meeting would be a futile exercise because the board had already spoken.

The full $50 million grant will be sought through the Mississippi Department of Transportation and, if approved, will originate from a larger $244.1 billion highway enhancement bill passed by Congress and signed by the president in August 2005.

About $2.14 million in federal money would fund the bridge park portion of the grant, more than the $1.6 million from the feds that was to fund a similar grant attempt in 1999. That one expired without support.

Bridge commissioners said the $427,000 local match would come from the commission’s utility funds.

Those funds make up an operating budget of $4.83 million for 2006-07, one that supervisors voted to accept later in the meeting.

The roadbed has been closed to traffic since 1998, just a year before supervisors mulled a $5.5 million offer from its railroad lessor, Kansas City Southern Railway. The structure’s value has been estimated at $150 million.

Another part of Banks’ reasoning for voting against the resolution was the need for another public vote on the bridge park idea.

A nonbinding, countywide vote not long before the last grant application attempt called for reopening the bridge to traffic. In ensuing years, the safety of the roadbed has been deemed unsuitable for modern-day vehicles by state transportation here and in Louisiana.

According to the application, the pedestrian walkway would stretch about 1,200 feet from the approach on the Mississippi side. The bike path would be open to riding all the way to the bridge’s end in Louisiana.

The $2.567 million project’s cost estimates include mention of deck repairs, protective screens and fences, video equipment, restrooms and parking lot. However, no mention is made in the application as to the location of the physical amenities.

In other business, the board: