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VOL. 126 | NO. 17 | Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Local Group, UP to Discuss Harahan Bridge

By Bill Dries

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A delegation from Memphis led by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. will be in Omaha, Neb., next week to talk with Union Pacific railroad executives about a bicycle and pedestrian path across the Mississippi River.

Harahan Bridge Bicycle & Pedestrian Path

Charles McVean and other bicycling enthusiasts want access from Union Pacific Railroad to a walkway on the 95-year-old Harahan rail bridge to link the Chickasaw Bluff Riverwalk to trails on the West Memphis side of the river and beyond.

The Memphis group, which includes McVean and Memphis City Council member Reid Hedgepeth as well as Crittenden County, Ark., officials, has a key ally in U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska, a former governor of Nebraska and former U.S. secretary of agriculture who knows McVean.

Johanns helped arrange the Feb. 4 meeting with Union Pacific chairman and CEO James Young.

“Our preliminary feel is very optimistic toward the prospects of this project,” McVean said. “No doubt there will be questions but none which we believe are unanswerable.”

The Memphis group will also have a couple of legal documents from August 1917.

In one, the city of Memphis agreed to pay $25,000 to the Arkansas and Memphis Railway Bridge and Terminal Co., then the owner of the bridge, for “that part of the double wagonway attached to the sides of the Harahan Railroad Bridge” that crosses the Mississippi River and is within the city of Memphis and the state of Tennessee.

The $25,000 also bought the north and south approaches to the wagonway on the Memphis side of the bridge.

The document says the sale’s terms are “forever.”

So does a document from the same date in 1917 selling the Arkansas side of the wagonway to Crittenden County for $40,000.

In 1953, Crittenden County tried to remove the steel beneath the wagonway and use it for other construction projects. The attempt went to court where a federal appeals court ruled against the county.

The ruling from the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted the ownership of the roadways and their approaches by Memphis and Crittenden County.

All that’s left of the old wagonway is a steel structure over which a road surface would be laid.

McVean’s plan is to connect the Memphis end of the boardwalk to the nearby Chickasaw Bluffs Riverwalk and use the bridge roadway that is on the north side of the bridge. The entry point would be by The Church of the River, 292 Virginia Ave. W. Staying to the north side of the bridge would mean access for bicycles and pedestrians without crossing the railroad tracks.

Since the bridge is also the northernmost of the three bridges at the crossing, it would offer an unobstructed view of the city skyline.

The boardwalk-to-be would dip below railroad grade on the Arkansas side and also avoid any need for a rail crossing. A concrete approach ramp remains in place. And McVean said a short greenway could connect from the ramp to existing roadways beneath the bridge that are now either dirt paths or service roads.

“There’s nothing theoretical about this,” McVean said. “I think it has the highest payout to incremental investment of any public works project imaginable. All we’re doing is tying together existing assets.”

McVean estimates the project would cost “a few million dollars” and would extend the burgeoning system of trails and greenways in Shelby County to the west.

“If we can link Shelby Farms via Overton Park and North Parkway and Mud Island and the riverfront and that bridge we will have gone a long way to change the whole image of this city,” he said.

The idea of a bike and pedestrian path tied to the river isn’t unique to the Memphis-West Memphis area. A 120-mile riverside levee bike path connecting New Orleans to Baton Rouge, La., is being planned by several Louisiana parishes and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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