Talks lead to railroad tunnel beneath Washington Street|[09/21/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 21, 2007

A railroad tunnel under Washington Street near Clark Street has emerged as the most viable option to replace the 63-year-old bridge near the intersection, the result of a second round of talks this year between city officials and Kansas City Southern Railway.

Progress was also reported involving improved access to residential areas near Mulberry Street and easing train noise on businesses and homes near rail crossings at Speed and Pearl streets.

Mayor Laurence Leyens termed the progress “serious” and enough to “put to bed” longstanding reports from citizens in the city’s Garden District about the noise KCS trains create in the area.

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Replacing the bridge is necessary due to continued sloughing of banks. The plan is to place a steel arch over the rail tracks and build a roadway at the bridge level. The project would be overseen by the Federal Railroad Administration, which will partner with the railroad, Leyens said. When work starts, through traffic will be halted for 30 to 45 days.

Monday from the city’s $16.9 million bond issue earlier this month will finance the project, with reimbursements coming from more than $6 million in transportation funds secured for the city in 2005, to be repaid in annual installments.

Longer-range goals involving access, specifically the construction of a road west of rail tracks between Fairground Street and Vicksburg Convention Center, will be three years in the making, Leyens said, adding it may involve convincing KCS to move its rail yard on Levee Street to a location further north in the city.

In a statement, the company did not address any one topic specifically, instead indicating a willingness on both sides to work together.

“Kansas City Southern (KCS) is working closely with the City of Vicksburg in the city’s efforts to replace the Washington Street overpass, reduce

at-grade crossings between the railroad and city streets, improve vehicular access to businesses along the Vicksburg waterfront, and

create more opportunity for business and residential development in the city. KCS believes these goals are obtainable and is very pleased with

the good working relationship it has with the city to achieve them,” said the statement issued by spokesman C. Doniele Kane.

Trains are required by federal law to sound their horns on approach to all grade crossings. The Garden District is home to several bed and breakfast inns. Leyens said a temporary closure of the Klein Street crossing was doable while the railroad continues to work to offer fair market value to property owners just west of the tracks.

“We just can’t close the west side of Speed Street,” Leyens said.

Earlier this year, the Mississippi Department of Transportation announced it would partner with the railroad to install a gated crossing at Oak and Mulberry streets. Material has been ordered, but no date has been set for completing the new barrier and warning system, part of a $2.8 million list of similar projects and crossing closures planned by MDOT.