Flaggs: Opening bridge a ‘game changer’

Published 7:14 pm Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Efforts by the Friends of the Old Mississippi River Bridge to open it to pedestrians and cyclists have the support of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

And Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said if Warren County doesn’t want to deal with the bridge, he’ll take it.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“If they (the county) offered it to me, I would take it,” Flaggs said. “If the Board of the Supervisors don’t want the responsibility or the liability, I think we can eliminate any barrier that Kansas City Southern (Railroad) can have to opening that bridge. I think there are ways around it. We ought to be able to limit the liability. There are ways to do that.”

Flaggs’ comments came Wednesday after the board approved a resolution supporting the Friends’ efforts to open the bridge to pedestrians and cyclists.

Friends member Linda Fondren told the board Oct. 1 that 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 Wednesday called opening the bridge a game changer.

“It can be one of the best tourists attractions this city ever had,” he said. “It will compete with Memphis (Tennessee) and other cities that have the same thing. If this city wants to grow, if this city wants to move forward, if this city wants to compete, if this city wants to be a true tourist destination, then it’s got to make some progressive changes. It’s got to think outside the box.”

Bridge very popular

He discussed United Way of West Central Mississippi’s recent Supper on the ‘Sip event on the bridge, Bricks and Spokes, and the Run Across the River event as examples of how the bridge is presently being used.

“If this city wants to compete as relates to tourist attractions along with the sports complex, (Vicksburg) National Military Park, the water park that’s to come, then we have to open this city up,” he said.

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.

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.

email author More by John