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Officials continue push to open Old Mississippi River Bridge to pedestrians

From one study to another, the effort on the part of city, county and economic leaders, as well as advocacy groups, to open the Old Mississippi River Bridge for full-time use by pedestrians is creeping along.

In a meeting last week, representatives from the Friends of the Mississippi River Bridge, Warren County Board of Supervisors and the Warren County Bridge Commission reviewed a feasibility study, provided by the Kansas City Southern Railway Co. that brought up concerns the railroad had with opening the bridge permanently.

Kansas City Southern Railway was not represented at the meeting.

Currently, there are a number of events that allow pedestrian access to the bridge, mostly those revolving around recreation, but full-time access to those simply looking to walk across the river is not permitted.

During the meeting, bridge commissioner Bob Moss agreed the bridge commission would pay for a study of its own, updating the engineering and feasibility of how the bridge could, in fact, safely be used by pedestrians on a full-time basis.

“We feel it is our responsibility to be as thorough as possible, and safety is our top concern,” Moss said. “We are taking all necessary action to open the bridge for pedestrian and cyclist use. We have not stopped doing what we are doing.”

In the past year, the Warren County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution instructing the Vicksburg Bridge Commission to take such action as it deems reasonable and appropriate to open the 18-foot wide roadway for pedestrian and bicycle traffic daily.

The city of Vicksburg, Village of Delta and Madison Parish have all passed resolutions supporting opening the bridge.

“We are working on taking all steps to open this asset for the citizens of Warren County and attract visitors to our county,” said Supervisor Richard George. “The board of supervisors is pleased to see the commission moving ahead with a study to address safety.”

The bridge was closed to vehicles in 1998 over safety concerns presented mainly by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. KCS leases the rail portion of the bridge from Warren County.

The bridge has been open for the past 30 years for fundraising events.

Currently, events held on the bridge are the United Way Supper on the Sip, Bridging the Gap Mississippians with disabilities, Vicksburg Main Street’s Bricks and Spokes, Southern Culture Heritage Foundation’s Over the River Run, Riverwalk Casino’s Bras for Breast Cancer, and other community recreational events.

The latest Warren County strategic economic development plan said, “the possibilities of Vicksburg-Warren County coming into its own as a world-class visitor venue are linked to the development of its river assets. The bridge is a unique asset that can be a bookend to a greater long-term vision of connecting the bridge to downtown.”

“A top question we get asked at our visitor information centers is how to experience the Mississippi River,” Laura Beth Strickland, deputy director of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, said. “When this scenic path opens, residents and visitors will have unique views of the enduring beauty of the Mississippi River. Bridges connect not only two pieces of land, but also people and cultures. This beautiful crossing will attract visitors and offer new economic opportunities in Mississippi and Louisiana.”

The Friends of the Mississippi River Bridge is a citizens’ organization seeking to have the bridge opened for bicycle and pedestrian traffic on a year-round basis.