Locals working to open old U.S. 80 bridge to pedestrians

Published 10:05 am Friday, September 2, 2016

A group of Warren County ambassadors to a Mississippi Development Authority program have set their sights on a long-time grassroots effort within the community.

Opening the old U.S. Highway 80 bridge to pedestrian traffic has been in the works since at least the late 1990s, when the last feasibility study on the project was completed. The ambassadors have made it their mission as part of a project for the MDA program to “assist in the opening” of the bridge, helping The Friends of the Bridge and other parties in their efforts to get community members walking across the Mississippi River, according to Annette Kirklin, one of five MDA community ambassadors from Warren County and the executive director of the Vicksburg Convention Center.

“(The aim of the project is to) bring it into a larger arena than just Warren County. It brings it to the attention of MDA and other potential users, like sporting groups and bicycle groups and heritage groups,” Bill Seratt, another of the ambassadors and the executive director of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, said after a VCVB board meeting last week where the MDA program was discussed. “Our project is to get that bridge open, and I think you’re going to see more and more interest in the community. I think you’re going to see civic clubs stepping up. The bottom line is it belongs to me, it belongs to you, it belongs to the people of this county. It may take everyone who is interested in the bridge, in getting up close and personal with Old Man River (to make it happen).”

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A meeting was also held Monday at the convention center on the subject, and ambassadors, Friends of the Bridge and representatives from local government agreed, Kirklin said, the next step was simple: “update and enhance” the 1999 feasibility study done on the opening of the bridge to pedestrian traffic.

“It’s mainly updating projected costs,” she said. “The meat of the study is still there. It’s just updating the numbers.

“This is something the community really wants. Just the visual of being able to see (people walking across the river) would draw people to Vicksburg.”

Along those same lines, Seratt said, “We know it’s feasible, but the feasibility study would tell us how much it’s going to cost, and there would also be a section that talks about the huge community support for opening the bridge to the people that own it.”

He added that those working on the project have looked at other cities, like Chattanooga, to see what they have done with their linear parks.

“Our vision is that there would be tableaus explaining (different facts about the river), to make it an education parkway as well,” he said. “Wouldn’t you love to walk out there and walk across the bridge at sunset? If you look at the bridge between Biloxi and Ocean Springs, there are old people, people jogging, people walking, people pushing baby carriages, people fishing, people taking pictures. It’s what we envision this park to be, a park for people.”

Kirklin said one of the biggest hold ups for the Kansas City Southern Railway Company, which owns the train tracks on the bridge, is the safety factor.

She noted several cities have achieved sharing a linear bridge park with train tracks, and the safety issue was addressed in the previous feasibility study.

The 1999 study reads, “The recommendations include…special hand rails and protective screens along the full length of the structure” to keep those on the bridge safe.

It also “considered necessary” gates be placed at both sides of the bridge to close it, video surveillance and audio equipment to provide voice announcements.

Kirklin said she has been making calls to determine the cost of updating the study and said she hopes to have a total within the next week or two.

Then, the next few steps would include OKing any potential plan with the county, who owns the bridge.

Seratt added finding funding for project would be its biggest obstacle, but that starts with an updated feasibility study and getting a cost estimate.

“We want this to be an attraction not just an attractor,” Seratt said.