Meeting offers hope that pedestrian walkway over river could happen

Published 11:32 am Tuesday, August 25, 2015

County officials gave a group seeking to turn the U.S. 80 Bridge over the Mississippi River into a recreational facility the go ahead Monday to look at insurance costs and options for the proposed park.

The move is to help ease concerns from Kansas City Southern Railroad about regularly opening the bridge to pedestrian traffic, said attorney Buddy Dees, who spoke on behalf of Friends of the Vicksburg Bridge.

The bridge is open to foot traffic several times throughout the year, most notably during October’s Over the River Run, Dees said.

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“It’s not that novel. We’re already got our toe in the pool. We just want to dive in the pool,” Dees said of the group’s proposal to turn the bridge into a park.

Current insurance only covers maintenance and emergency vehicles and special events, County Administrator John Smith said.

Opening the bridge full time could help draw tourists in for a one-of-a-kind view of the Mississippi River, Dees said.

“We think it would be a tremendous tourism boom to this area,” Dees said. “We just want to get the bridge open and they will come.”

Members of the informal group, along with Board of Supervisors President Bill Lauderdale, met in Jackson last November with KCS vice president Warren Erdman.

“They had an open mind but they raised some concerns. They asked about some liability and insurance questions and that’s basically where we stand,” Dees said.

Railroad officials were also concerned with security for the major rail line crossing the Mississippi, Lauderdale said.

Both concerns are easily satisfied, and Lauderdale voiced his support for the project.

“I definitely think we need to do whatever we have to and try to go forward with it,” Lauderdale said.

District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon said he also supported turning the bridge into a park.

“I’m 100 percent. I think we need to have some type of recreation on that bridge. I’m all in for that. It will be an economic boost and it will help the people of Vicksburg and Warren County,” Selmon said.

Special events on the bridge’s roadbed have spiked in the past half-decade since the Over The River Run started in 1989, partially because the bridge is the only flat area longer than half a mile in Vicksburg.
“This could be the premiere, ideal spot for exercise in all of Vicksburg,” said Linda Fondren, founder of Shape Up Sisters and a member of the Friends of the Bridge.

Some supervisors raised questions over whether insurance would cover the pedestrians once they crossed into Louisiana.

“The bridge is owned by Warren County. It’s Warren County’s bridge from one end of the other,” said Hunter Fordice, a member of the bridge group. “You would be in Louisiana when you’re over there but you’re still on Warren County property.”

KCS has opposed two major efforts to finance a walkway with federal highway money since the bridge closed to vehicles. The most recent was in 2006, when KCS opposed it in writing to state and federal legislators from Vicksburg.