Officials again seek bridge funds on yearly trip to D.C.

Published 12:30 am Saturday, February 5, 2011

Federal money for the Washington Street bridge construction tops the local legislative wish list again this year as elected officials and others head to Washington, D.C., this weekend in pursuit of federal funds.

“We’ve been successful in years past, but this year is a little bit different,” said Wayne Mansfield, executive director of the Warren County Port Commission and Economic Development Foundation, who is in charge of compiling project requests. “There is a lot of voter frustration out there with tax dollars and earmarks.”

While in Washington, the delegation will meet separately with all U.S. senators and congressmen who represent Mississippi, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Foreign Trade Commission.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Making the five-day trip with Mansfield, leaving today and Sunday, are Mayor Paul Winfield, City Attorney Lee Davis Thames, City Clerk Walter Osborne, Vicksburg Main Street Program Executive Director Kim Hopkins, Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Bill Seratt, Warren County District 1 Supervisor David McDonald, Southern Cultural Heritage Center Executive Director Annette Kirklin, Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Christi Kilroy, Chamber Board President A.J. “Buddy” Dees, business owner James T. Kilroy Jr., real estate developer Jim Fondren, Chamber board member Linda Fondren, business owner Rodger Hopkins, ABMB Engineers Managing Principal John McKee, BancorpSouth Senior Vice President over Commercial Lending David Cox and Greater Jackson Alliance Director Ross Tucker.

Travel expenses are paid by the boards, bureaus or businesses they represent.

“What ultimately happens is, if we’re unable to progress our community without federal assistance, then monies have to come from the taxpayers and we have been very sensitive to maintaining real property tax millage rates,” he said. “We’re one of the lowest in the state, and we have to do everything we can to keep it that way.”

The current millage rate in the city is 35.88 — meaning for a property valued at $100,000, taxes paid on that property with a homestead exemption would be $358.80. In the county, the millage rate is 40.53.

The city is requesting $4 million to help replenish money moved from other city projects to the bridge after the 80-year-old span over the Kansas City Southern Railway near Clark Street was deemed unsafe for any vehicular traffic in January 2009.

The total cost of the construction project is $8.6 million, $5 million of which was earmarked in a 2006 bond issue. By the time work began, the original proposed cost of the project had increased, and the remainder of the cost is being financed through funds from another bond issue, which put street-paving and a recreational complex on hold.

“When you look at Vicksburg, Clay Street and Washington Street are the two most viable corridors for economic activity, and that’s why we made it a priority,” said Winfield said.

Construction of the roadway-topped rail tunnel began in August and is expected to be complete and open for traffic by May.

Next on the list is a $12 million request by the Warren County Port Commission to upgrade infrastructure at the Port of Vicksburg to make way for an anticipated increase in container shipping through the port, Mansfield said.

The request will fund upgrades to the 15-ton overhead crane and terminal facility and upgrades to the rail loop serving the port facilities.

Other projects on the list include $6 million for the Interstate 20 South Frontage Road connection, which has been in the planning stages for nearly 15 years; $500,000 to fund studying how a sanitary sewer system could work for areas outside Vicksburg; $85 million for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintenance dredging of the lower Mississippi River; $2.4 million for restoring the port’s intermodal connector fund; $75 million for the design of a connecting road to tie U.S. 61 North bypass to Haining Road; and $10 million to remodel the Interstate 20 interchange at Flowers.

Without asking for money, the delegation also is expected to voice its support for legislation reintroduced this week by U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker.

The Champion Hill, Port Gibson and Raymond Battlefield Addition Act would increase the size and scope of the Vicksburg National Military Park by 10,000 acres through voluntary sale, donation or exchange. The three areas were part of the Campaign for Vicksburg during the Civil War.

“This will be a huge tourism draw, especially with the sesquicentennial of the Civil War,” Mansfield said. “I think it will be a huge boost for tourism in the upcoming years.”