VICKSBURG, MS (AP) Bank stabilization on the Mississippi side of the U.S. 80 Mississippi River bridge will be costly but is necessary to safeguard the future of the structure, engineers and bridge officials said.
“The consequence of failure here is immense and I don’t believe we can afford not to do this,” said Max Reed, chairman of the bridge commission.
Engineers of the ABMB firm presented their initial findings to the Vicksburg Bridge Commission and recommended a multimillion-dollar project that would include the construction of new retaining walls under the 75-year-old bridge and other erosion-control measures.
To date, the commission has paid $50,000 for the initial report and approved spending up to another $75,000 for the second phase of the design work.
ABMB engineers could not say how much they anticipate the work costing, but say it will be similar, but smaller in scale, to a $25-million bluff stabilization project in Natchez.
Warren County has owned the privately built bridge since 1947 and operates it like a business, collecting tolls from the railroad and utility rentals. The span, which closed to vehicular traffic in 1998, is the only railroad crossing of the Mississippi River between Memphis and Baton Rouge. The four-lane Interstate 20 bridge is nearby.
Wendel Ruff of ABMB said small retaining walls built approximately 50 years ago under the bridge just north of the Mississippi Welcome Center on Washington Street are starting to fail, opening the possibility that huge sections of the bluff could slide.
Officials said readings taken between the visitors center and the bridge indicate the ground there moved .2 in. (.5 cm) over two months.
Ruff said that while that movement isn’t alarming, it needs to be addressed.
“I think [the retaining walls are] what saved the bridge,” Ruff said. “If not for those, the loose soil would have knocked those supports off their foundations.”
Commission members have recommended converting the span’s roadbed into a pedestrian and bicycle park and have contracted with ABMB for those plans.
A park plan proposed in 1999 was rejected by voters who favored reopening the bridge approximately 2-1, but five years later that directive was rejected by county supervisors who ultimately control its fate.