Mayor believes he can help bridge the divide over Old Mississippi River Bridge

Published 7:25 pm Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Friends of the Old Mississippi River Bridge may have another supporter in its quest to open the bridge to the public.

The Warren County Bridge Commission Wednesday directed its attorney Robert Bailess to draft a letter supporting efforts by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Board of Supervisors and the Friends group to convince Kansas City Southern Railroad to drop its objections to opening the bridge.

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Commission chairman Bob Moss said a decision whether to issue the letter is pending approval by the Board of Supervisors.

The move follows a discussion about the bridge with Mayor George Flaggs Jr., who sought the commission’s support in getting the railroad to drop its objections. The city and county have both approved resolutions opening the bridge to the public.

Kansas City Southern officials have opposed any attempt to opening the bridge for public access, citing safety concerns. Moss said the railroad’s objections are a major hurdle to opening the bridge.

Flaggs said he has asked Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, to help schedule a meeting of city and county officials and Friends representatives with Kansas City Southern officials to discuss the railroad’s objections.

“I’m just simply asking KC (Kansas City Southern Railroad) to allow us to have full access of it, and I think it begins by this board, the Bridge Commission, supporting the same thing by resolution that the city of Vicksburg has gone on record and the Board of Supervisors,” Flaggs said.

“I just believe I can sway them to come our way, I really do, with these (city and county) resolutions and especially with Sen. Wicker,” he said. “If I can sit down and talk with Donald Trump, I can sit down with KCS.”

The Board of Supervisors in June approved a resolution authorizing the Bridge Commission “to take such action as it deems reasonable and appropriate to open the 18-foot wide roadway for pedestrian and bicycle traffic on a daily basis.”

Moss said the supervisors’ resolution instructed the commission to “find a way to open the bridge for a pathway.

“The board didn’t tell us to make it into a park; they said find out how it can be done and take it back to the board and then the board in turn tells us to go or not go,” Moss said.

He said the commission has been able to resolve issues “that allow us to do things we weren’t sure we were legally allowed do.”

The railroad, he said, “is still an unsolved hurdle and it does not appear to me to be any softer now than it was.”

Flaggs believes he can change the railroad’s mind.

He said a unified front from the county could help the railroad soften its objections.

“I believe that if one or two from this board, one or two supervisors, two members of Friends of the Bridge and one or two aldermen would have an impact (on the railroad),” he said.

On Monday, Flaggs revealed a proposal to make the Old Mississippi River Bridge accessible to the public.

Speaking before Monday’s meeting of the Board of Mayor and Alderman, he discussed plans to install a screen to shield the railroad tracks from the road deck on the Old Mississippi River Bridge.

Flaggs said the proposed screen is similar to one installed on an old bridge in Memphis, Tennessee. He said the aging bridge and the land around it were converted into a public walkway and park.

He said Jackson-based engineering company Allen and Hoshall, which presently has a contract with the city on another project, provided the design and technical assistance to install the screen shielding the bridge’s railroad tracks from its road deck to make the bridge safe. He did not have an estimate for the project.

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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