City makes plea to U.S.|’This is not a bridge to nowhere’
Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 24, 2009
Vicksburg Mayor Paul Winfield led Brad Davis, state office director for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, and a group of local officials onto a closed Washington Street bridge Wednesday morning in a bid to show how vital the rail overpass is to business, traffic flow and safety in the city — and also to ask for help in finding roughly $3 million to get the stalled project under way.
“This is not a bridge to nowhere,” Winfield told Davis. “This is a major thoroughfare and our citizens and visitors really depend on this bridge to access our entire city. There are a plethora of reasons we need to get this bridge replaced.”
Joining Winfield to give Davis an earful were Warren County Board of Supervisors President Richard George, state Reps. Alex Monsour and Briggs Hopson III, as well as Mississippi Department of Transportation District Engineer Kevin Magee and a number of city officials, including Public Works Director Bubba Rainer, North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield and City Attorney Lee Davis Thames Jr.
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“Everyone says the project they’re working on is a big deal. So, actually coming out to see them gives us a better appreciation for what the projects really are, and it puts us in a better position to advise Senator Cochran,” said Davis. “It’s clear this is not just a convenience issue.”
Winfield and others made sure to nail that point down during their 40-minute visit with Davis on the bridge. The mayor said the bridge closure poses a safety hazard to the general public by hindering emergency responders. Rainer said it also creates a detour in the city’s main evacuation route. Monsour said he’s been inundated with complaints from trucking companies. Hopson said the closure is causing some tourists to bypass Vicksburg altogether and George added businesses in the city and county are suffering as a result.
“This is as serious as it gets, when our businesses are affected so severely,” said George.
Located near DiamondJack’s Casino at the Clark Street intersection, the 80-year-old bridge has been closed since January. It is to be replaced with a road-topped railway tunnel. The project is being overseen by Kansas City Southern, and everything is in place for construction to begin — everything except the money, that is.
“We could start tomorrow if we had the funding in place,” said Rainer.
When the city began planning for the bridge replacement in 2006, the city estimated the cost at $5 million and set aside exactly that much of a $16.9 million bond issue for the work. The Federal Railroad Administration is to reimburse the city $4 million of the cost. However, when bids were finally taken on the work earlier this year the cost had grown to nearly twice the original estimate. After months of negotiations, Rainer said KCS has awarded Kanza Construction the bid at $8.6 million.
The city first began scrambling for the additional funds earlier this year under former Mayor Laurence Leyens, who attempted to find the money through MDOT and the federal stimulus package. Winfield said it is unlikely the bridge will be replaced by a July 2010 deadline. Rainer has said it will likely take up to a year to complete the tunnel once ground is broken. Due to rapid erosion on an adjacent hill on the north side of the bridge, the city was forced to declare an emergency this spring and have the slope stabilized. The city was reimbursed 75 percent of the $340,931 cost for the slope stabilization work, said Rainer, and it has already spent about $425,000 on planning and designing the tunnel project.
With the bridge out, local traffic is diverted onto Confederate Avenue or Lee Street and travels through City Park.
Contact Steve Sanoski at email@example.com