Bridge friends lobby city officials

Published 6:16 pm Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Members of the Friends of the Old Mississippi River Bridge want the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to approve a resolution of support for opening the bridge for pedestrians and cyclists.

Friends members Linda Fondren and Annette Kirklin addressed the board at it meeting Monday, and presented the resolution to the board. The board is expected to approve it its Oct. 10 meeting.

“We are here because of hope,” Fondren said. “The Friends group has made significant progress, and we believe the leadership of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen can help tremendously with the efforts to open the bridge.”

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She said the city’s comprehensive plan envisions the bridge as part of the development of the city’s riverfront development and is discussed in the county’s strategic plan as essential economic development asset.

“Opening up the bridge would be a major game changer,” Fondren said, adding the organization has received more than 1,400 signatures on a petition supporting opening the bridge.

She said the Warren County Board of Supervisors has already passed a resolution supporting opening the bridge, and the county has a received a favorable Attorney General’s opinion that she said “put doubt aside that the Bridge Commission can open the bridge.”

Flaggs said he believed the bridge could be opened in three years, adding, “I really believe this can be another game changer for Vicksburg as it relates to the (Mississippi) hardware store as a technology incubator, the sports complex.”

He said he had contacts with officials at Kansas City Southern Railroad, and if the supervisor agreed, he would be willing to go with a supervisor and other representatives to talk to railroad officials about the bridge.

The 1.6-mile, 88-year-old span is owned by Warren County and managed by the five-member Vicksburg Bridge Commission, which is appointed by the supervisors. The bridge was closed to vehicles in 1998 over safety concerns presented mainly by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. Louisiana maintains the Interstate 20 bridge and stopped allocating money to the bridge on the west side of the state line after it was closed to vehicles.

Kansas City Southern Railroad leases the track on the bridge from the county.

The bridge’s driving surface, or deck, is a popular site for special events like the Over The River Run, which began in 1989, 5K walks, the Bricks and Spokes ride to promote downtown and a breast cancer benefit featuring bras strung along the old road’s railing. Wheelchair bikers and bicyclists have also crossed the old bridge for a “Walk, Roll and Stroll” benefit for Living Independence for Everyone, a Jackson-based charity for the disabled.

Two efforts since 1998 to fund a bicycle park on the old bridge in Vicksburg with federal highway money have petered out due to opposition from Kansas City Southern Railroad citing safety as a reason.

The most recent was in 2006, when KCS opposed it in writing to state and federal legislators from Vicksburg, the Mississippi Department of Transportation and then-Gov. Haley Barbour.

A coalition of local government and tourism promotion entities had applied for grant money via MDOT to finance the project.

A 1999 study commissioned by the Warren County Bridge Commission addressed improving the bridge to make it safer for walkers and cyclers.

The petition can be found on the group’s River Path Junction Facebook page.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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