Supervisors, bridge guys meet again, keep cards close to vest

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 13, 2008

Information about the U.S. 80 Bridge over the Mississippi River remained scant after Warren County supervisors and Vicksburg bridge commissioners met behind closed doors Thursday, the third such session in the past six months.

For most of this year, the bridge panel and the supervisors who appoint them have engaged in private talks concerning the county’s contractual relationship with Kansas City Southern Railway, strained for years and magnified since 2005 when efforts to raise railroad tolls began. Sessions have been closed to public scrutiny by commissioners, invoking the potential litigation exception in Mississippi Open Meetings laws.

No actions were announced after Thursday’s talks, but officials of both boards who commented publicly after the two-hour session ended said the next move belongs to the other.

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“No,” bridge commission chairman Robert Moss said when asked if supervisors had recommended a course of action. “We’re at great consternation to try to get one.”

Reached later, Board President Richard George said the status of the lease was central to Wednesday’s session and declined to rule out any possibility concerning the county’s ownership of the 78-year old structure.

“We’ve been talking about the lease,” George said. “That’s been the big battle.”

George indicated economics was the main holdup in bringing the protracted talks to some type of resolution.

“The effort is to resolve (the lease terms). The bridge commission is determined to do what it is charged with doing, which is to deal with it,” George said.

An offer from the railroad to purchase the bridge from the county for $5.5 million in 1997 fell through due to public pressure. The 78-year-old bridge was closed to vehicular traffic a year later. Two attempts at establishing a pedestrian park and bicycle path using federal highway money have failed since then, the second of which in 2006 prompted KCS to threaten legal action. 

Lease terms set by the commission three years ago at $14 per car have not been reflected in payments made by the railroad since then, instead hovering around $4, the previous toll. Rail traffic was reported at 26,134 and 25,474 cars by KCS for September and October, respectively.

Superintendent Herman Smith said no checks had arrived for either month, however. Most recent payments were made in August and reflected a rate of $3.75. The five-member commission agreed Wednesday to move $70,000 in funds from a money market account to its checking account to cover the shortfall.

Funds from rail rolls are expected to reach $1.2 million for fiscal 2008-09, about 80 percent of total revenue.

Meanwhile, preliminary work to shore up wind shear devices on pier 2 and replace bearings began in the past month. Costs for that and for stabilization to bulkheads on the Mississippi bank figure to exceed more than $1.4 million.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at