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VOL. 129 | NO. 157 | Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lower Cost Moves Bridge Project Closer to Reality

By Bill Dries

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The Big River Initiative, the nonprofit group raising private funding for a pedestrian and bicycle boardwalk on the Harahan Bridge across the Mississippi River, has $2.5 million to raise to get the project started.

The pedestrian and bicycle boardwalk across the Harahan Bridge is closer to reality as preliminary bids have come in much lower than the first round of bids on the project.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Preliminary bids on the boardwalk, recently rebranded as Big River Crossing, and a West Memphis trail system connecting to the bridge came in $5 million lower than the first round of bids on the projects.

“One of the challenges for the private fundraisers up until now is that it’s very difficult for them to raise money when they didn’t really know how much money they needed to raise,” said Downtown Memphis Commission President Paul Morris.

The commission is overseeing implementation for the city of Memphis of the $43 million Main Street to Main Street Connector project. The project includes the boardwalk and the West Memphis trails.

But when the first bids on the project came in higher than expected late last year, Morris had the design tweaked to save money and incorporate new features and then rebid the project. He also said at the outset of the rebid that no work would begin on the boardwalk and trails until all of the private funding for it was secured.

The two features are the only parts of the Main to Main project that are not underway. The other parts of the project are a renovation in stages of Main Street from Uptown to South Main, including the Memphis side leading up to the Harahan boardwalk, and similar renovations on Broadway, West Memphis’ version of Main Street.

The preliminary low bid opened Friday, Aug. 8, on the bridge boardwalk was $17.5 million, about $4 million lower than the first set of bids, according to Morris.

A week earlier, the preliminary low bid on the West Memphis trail from the boardwalk into West Memphis was $2.8 million, about $1 million lower than the first set of bids.

The low bids will be evaluated and double-checked in the next three months to verify they are valid and match the specifications, and then the contracts can be awarded.

The West Memphis trails begin at the western end of the boardwalk on an old roadway that hasn’t been utilized since the Harahan Bridge featured side lanes that were first used for horse-drawn wagons and later for cars.

From that network of concrete roads, the trails would lead to Broadway as well as the Arkansas flood plain by the Mississippi River and onto the levees where the city of West Memphis begins.

West Memphis officials are developing a plan for an “eco-park” in the flood plain that would include riverside trails when the river isn’t flooded and paths to explore the site of the old Hopefield settlement, Dacus Lake and old Native American trails.

“We expected to save some money on it because we had a better design with a slightly different route that just worked better for the riders but also saved some money,” Morris said of the Arkansas trails. “We were able to work with a private property owner to get access to a different route that’s a better route but also less expensive.”

The preliminary bid would put the Arkansas fundraising effort at a surplus. The effort was $800,000 short with the first bid last year.

The Big River Initiative signed a contract in July with the St. Francis Levee Board agreeing to work toward a permanent agreement for development of more than 60 miles of bicycle and pedestrian trails on levees from West Memphis to Marianna, Ark.

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