Bridge money depends on pipeline talks

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 9, 2009

How talks shape up with the owner of two natural gas pipelines on bridge property will loom large in financing the U.S. 80 Bridge over the Mississippi River for fiscal 2009-10.

Moving the lines, owned by Gulf South Pipeline, is key to work to stabilize bulkheads on the Mississippi side of the river and stop soil erosion and sloughing. A contract inked in 1939, within a decade after the bridge was built, allows the commission to remove the lines at the company’s cost and risk, commission attorney Bobby Bailess told commissioners Wednesday.

Fees paid to county engineers studying the project equaled $35,311.74 during fiscal 2008-09, but will rise as commissioners mull the project, estimated two years ago at $1.4 million.

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The bridge is owned by Warren County and is operated as a not-for-profit business by the commission. Income for maintenance comes from tolls on users, primarily Kansas City Southern railway.

Though only amended and not officially adopted, projections show $1,373,000 in revenue and $705,900 in spending, with just $10,000 penciled in for fees associated with the stabilization. Commissioners expect up to $125,000 in utility rental income, but expect the cost of the work to run into the hundreds of thousands, which would produce a deficit of at least $250,000. Allowing for money held in reserve, last year’s independent audit projected a loss of $180,756. Another financial study is planned this year.

Replacement of bearings and repositioning wind shear devices on pier 2, the first large support pier from the Mississippi side, cost the commission $1,214,389.10 during the current fiscal year. Year-to-date net income stands $631,201.76 in the red. Interest income drawn from bridge financial accounts was $70,298.59, far shy of the $180,000 expected in last year’s budget.

“We spent less than anticipated, but we had less net income because of the interest,” Superintendent Herman Smith said.

Tolls from KCS may exceed the $1.2 million projected for this year, as current collections equal $1,174,381.25, according to Smith. The 2009-10 budget projects the same level of payments, which breaks down to 25,000 rail cars crossing the Mississippi River at Vicksburg per month. A payment of $80,996.25 for May’s rail traffic was paid at $3.75 a car.

The car count for June was reported higher, at 22,842 for the month. Commissioners said more trains were eastbound for the month, indicating a slowdown in goods shipped to Mexico by the railroad.

Rail traffic nationwide was down for June compared to a year ago, according to the Association of American Railroads. The industry trade group said U.S. railroads originated 1,039,889 carloads of freight, 19.7 percent fewer than June 2008.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at