Mayor, local officials invited by KCSR to discuss Old Mississippi River Bridge

Published 7:45 pm Thursday, January 10, 2019

A letter to Mayor George Flaggs Jr. has indicated Kansas City Southern Railroad may be willing to meet with him about the Old Mississippi River Bridge, the mayor said Thursday.

He said the letter extended an invitation to him and representatives from the Friends of the Old Mississippi River Bridge and other organizations to meet either at the railroad’s headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, or hold a conference call to discuss the bridge.

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“This breaking news is good to me, because it gets us at the table,” Flaggs said. “I think there’s tremendous progress in what’s going on.”

He thanked Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, for his help with the railroad, and the Friends of the Old Mississippi River Bridge for their support in opening the historic bridge deck to year-round bicycle and pedestrian traffic.

The letter written by John Lundy of Capital Resources, a Jackson-based lobbying group representing Kansas City Southern, indicated if Flaggs or another city representative wanted to travel to Kansas City to meet with KCS officials, “I’m sure my client would be happy to welcome you for such a meeting.”

The letter also mentioned the telephone conference as an alternative.

Lundy also cited a 2014 meeting between KCS officials, Flaggs, city attorney Nancy Thomas and supporters of opening the bridge in which railroad officials outlined their safety concerns in opening the bridge daily to pedestrians. He also said railroad officials later met with Warren County bridge commissioners.

The letter was accompanied by a copy of a May 13 letter to the editor by Kayden B. Howard, KCS’s health, safety and environmental vice president, outlining the railroad’s opposition to opening the bridge.

“Going forward, there are a number of things we’re going to have to do to get the bridge open,” Flaggs said. “There are challenges. We’re going to do this in the best way (so) that Kansas City can open the door for some real dialogue and discussion on the bridge. I think we can make progress.”

He said he wanted to see the bridge deck open by the end of the year.

Flaggs said he will ask the Mississippi River and Towns Initiative, an organization of 124 cities and towns — including Vicksburg — along the Mississippi, to approve a resolution supporting opening the bridge.

“This group has given a common voice to a lot of things along the Mississippi River,” he said. “I intend to ask them to support us. I intend to go to the state of Louisiana and meet with the governor because this is a Louisiana-Mississippi bridge.”

Flaggs met Wednesday with the Warren County Bridge Commission seeking its support. Commission chairman Bob Moss directed the commission’s attorney to draft a letter of support for opening the bridge.

Moss said after the meeting the decision whether to send the letter depended on the approval of the Board of Supervisors.

Flaggs said he will also meet with the Mayor of Delta, Louisiana, and Madison Parish, Louisiana, officials for support, and go to Jackson for state support.

Howard’s letter said federal and regional officials in the past have expressed security concerns about opening the traffic deck daily to the public.

“The U.S. 80 Bridge is a major link in the national rail system and interstate commerce,” Howard wrote. “Safety and security should be the number one consideration for the county and bridge commission.

“Sitting immediately adjacent this heavily used freight train bridge deck over the Mississippi, the old traffic deck is not suitable for daily recreational use by the public. Derailments, barge hits from below and other accidents can and do occur.”

Howard said the pedestrian area of the Memphis, Tennessee, bridge Flaggs discussed in Monday’s meeting, “Was already much more shielded from train operations than the U.S. 80 bridge, but still required a reported $11 million investment and 11 years to make it safe.”

Monday, Flaggs discussed plans to install a screen similar to one on the Memphis bridge to shield the railroad tracks from the road deck on the Old Mississippi River Bridge.

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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