Bridge open; officials, residents yahoo Ribbon-cutting is culmination of 3 years’ work

Published 11:30 am Tuesday, February 14, 2012

For 30 minutes Monday, more than 30 people, including some residents and business owners on Washington Street, ignored the blowing rain and cold temperatures to watch the end of three years of anxiety.

As Warren Central High School’s Big Blue band played a bright tune, Vicksburg Mayor Paul Winfield, surrounded by city and county officials and Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce representatives, cut a ribbon officially opening the rebuilt Washington Street bridge at Clark Street. The ceremony was followed by a small parade of antique cars, the first vehicles to cross the new $8.6 million structure.

“It’s wonderful to have it open,” said Robert Brown, who lives on nearby Clark Street. “Now I won’t have to travel so far to get to work.”

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Brown, who works at Ameristar Casino, said he has watched the bridge work since it began three years ago.

“I never thought they would be able to do it, but I’m glad it’s done,” he said.

“This is an exciting day for Vicksburg and tourism,” Sharon Lutz said. “We’re very excited.

Lutz and her husband, Bradley, also watched the crews from Kanza Construction Co. of Topeka, Kan., and other subcontractors build the road and tunnel project.

Winfield called the bridge a great opportunity for the city, saying it would allow traffic to move smoothly through the city.

“This was a difficult project,” he said after the ceremony. “We inherited this project and we got a lot of help from the state and our delegation in Washington. There was a lot of cooperation to get this done.”

Winfield commended U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Mississippi Highway Commissioner Dick Hall for their help in getting federal funding for the project.

“This will last for 100 years,” Winfield said as temperatures dropped into the mid-40s but felt much cooler with wind and rain blowing off the nearby Mississippi River. “It will be here serving citizens long after we’re gone.”

Felicia Gavin, executive vice president and general manager for DiamondJacks Casino, said reopening the bridge “will connect Washington Street with Main Street. It will give tourists a straight route to downtown and will help all the businesses on Washington Street.”

The 82-year-old bridge was closed on Jan. 29, 2009, after erosion threatened the span.

After it was closed, traffic was detoured around the bridge through Lee Street east to Army-Navy Drive and North Frontage Road until a second detour running west from Lee Street and across the KCS tracks was built.

City attorney Lee Thames said Monday that the Lee Street crossing is expected to be closed in the next three to four months.

In early 2010, the board approved a contract with Kansas City Southern Railway and Kanza to replace the bridge with the tunnel and road. Construction began in June 2010 and was expected to be completed in June 2011.

KCS was the prime contractor for the project, and Kanza was the subcontractor. The railroad’s construction contract with the city was not to exceed $7.9 million. The city paid TransSystems, the project engineer, $700,000 to design the project and have an onsite inspector, making the total price $8.6 million.

Under the contract, KCS paid the city $500,000 for some of the previous work performed at the site. The railroad also agreed to pay the city $150,000 when the Lee Street detour was closed after the bridge reopened.

The tunnel project was paid through a $4 million Federal Railroad Administration Grant, with the city providing a $1 million match, and $3.7 million in bond funds diverted from the development of Fisher Ferry recreational park and a street-paving project.

Difficulties with the project forced KCS to change the anticipated completion date twice, from June 10 to Sept. 30, and later from Sept. 30 to Feb. 28.The project’s completion date was changed three times, Construction on the tunnel began in June 2010 and was expected to be completed by June 2011.

After the completion date to was moved to Feb. 28, KCS agreed to pay the city’s additional fees for TranSystems to keep an inspector on the site.