Erosion snaps phone, Internet service

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 27, 2009

Heavy rains washed away more land and an emergency may be declared to stabilize the ever-widening gully off Washington Street near the closed bridge spanning the rail tracks at Clark Street.

Additional slope failure during the downpour Wednesday night caused an underground AT&T conduit to break, severing telephone and Internet service to an undetermined number of customers in Vicksburg, said AT&T spokesman Sue Sperry. An AT&T crew was on site Thursday morning, beginning repairs that will last until at least Saturday night, said Sperry.

“Service will be restored before then,” she said, providing no specifics. “We don’t know how many customers are affected. It’s not like the power lines, where there’s a grid and you know who is without power. The outages are probably within a few blocks of where the lines were damaged.”

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Stabilizing the slope has been included on a city to-do list since 2006 when $5 million of a $16.9 million bond issue was set aside for the work. The Federal Railroad Administration is to reimburse the city $4 million of the cost. Kansas City Southern is overseeing the project, which now calls for a tunnel with a roadway atop instead of a bridge, and Bubba Rainer, Vicksburg public works director, said KCS received bids for the work Wednesday.

The city had hoped the tunnel project would begin before the slope eroded too far, but Rainer said he’s not sure if it has that much time.

“We’ve got to do something now,” he said. “If we can’t get that project going immediately (under the KCS contract) — I’m saying beginning next week — we may need to pull that part of the project out of the (KCS) contract, declare an emergency and get that work under contract ourselves.” 

Parts of Washington Street could now be in jeopardy of sliding into the gully, said Rainer. The immediate solution is relatively simple, he said, and would only require re-filling the hole with dirt.

“We’ve got a little time to do what we need to do, but we’ve got to do it soon,” he said.

The most recent slide leaves only about 2 feet of green space between Washington Street and the gully dropping to rail tracks. He estimated there was about 12 feet of land between the street and the hole three months ago. That rate of land loss, due primarily to a storm drain that pours into the hole, has been expected, he added.

“What’s moving slower than expected is the bridge project, which we thought would be under contract by now,” he said.

The bridge, built in 1929 and about 100 yards long, has been closed to traffic since Jan. 23 — although the city had also hoped it would remain open until the KCS contract began, said Rainer.

KCS workers replaced an 18-inch storm drain last week with a 24-inch pipe alongside the tracks near Lee and Washington streets to decrease drainage problems. A plan to reroute the existing storm drain is also included in the tunnel project, said Rainer, to avoid the same problem occurring in the future.

The short bridge has a long history of problems due to the unstable bluffs rising from the river. Erosion on banks supporting the bridge has accelerated since a partial collapse in the mid-1980s. That led to an earlier blockade of the bridge, lasting more than a year while the banks were fortified.

City officials have estimated the bridge could be closed for up to 18 months while the tunnel is constructed. Traffic on the main north-south city corridor is being detoured through city park.


Contact Steve Sanoski at