Deadline nears for Washington Street work

Published 11:44 am Thursday, September 15, 2011

Almost three months after the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen granted Kansas City Southern Railway an extension to complete the Washington Street railroad bridge project, the job is at a standstill.

“I know they’ve had a tough time with the project,” acting public works director Garnet Van Norman said.

With the project’s Sept. 30 deadline 15 days away, Washington Street south from Lee Street remains closed to traffic. The gap between the approaches of the now demolished bridge that once crossed a ravine and the Kansas City Southern Railroad tracks remains wide open, and no construction activity is in sight.

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Kansas City Southern officials have failed for six days to return a reporter’s phone calls or answer e-mails.

City officials, too, say they have been kept in the dark but feel certain the railroad will seek another extension.

“Officially, I have not heard anything from them,” city attorney Lee David Thames Jr. said.

He said the contract for the project contains no penalties against KCS, which is the prime contractor. However, under the extension agreement, Thames said, the railroad pays for extra fees charged by TranSystems, the city’s engineer, which has an on-site inspector at the project.

Because the contract between the city and KCS was styled “not to exceed $8.6 million,” Thames said, the railroad picks up any additional costs involving the work.

“Every time a train goes by, they have to stop work,” Van Norman said. “No one wants this project finished more than Kansas City Southern.”

Mayor Paul Winfield wants to meet with officials from Kanza Construction of Kansas City, Mo., the project’s subcontractor, about the work.

“I want to see this project moving along,” he said. “I’m concerned, because I’ve been to the site several times and I haven’t seen any work.

“I hope Kansas City Southern is able to get this moving, and as city officials, we’re ready to help facilitate that move,” he said.

The 82-year-old bridge was closed in January 2009 because unstable, eroding soil threatened the span. Work began in June 2010 on the $8.6 million project to replace the span with a rail tunnel topped by a road.

The project was supposed to be completed by June 30, but multiple problems with the project forced KCS to seek a 90-day extension to Sept. 30.

“That bridge has shot down business on this street; nobody’s doing nothing,” said Henry Tidwell, an employee at Big Mama’s, a small food stand between Lee Street and the bridge.

“Business is slow,” he said. “Sometimes, it picks up a little bit. It’ll get better when the bridge opens up. When the bridge was open, this street was full of traffic.”