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VOL. 126 | NO. 62 | Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Harahan Boardwalk Backers Plan Return to Omaha

By Bill Dries

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The Memphis group working with Union Pacific Corp. to build a bike and pedestrian boardwalk across the Mississippi River will be at the railroad’s Omaha, Neb., headquarters next month.

It’s the second face-to-face meeting on the plan to restore a walkway across the river on the Harahan Bridge. And it will be more specific than the first session in February when the railroad’s CEO agreed to find a way to make it work.

“We’ve got to have a big sophisticated engineering firm because this is a big project,” said Charles McVean, the Memphis commodities trader leading the working group now known as the Harahan Bridge Project.

The working group’s efforts are chronicled in the cover story of the current edition of The Memphis News.

The group is pushing for a boardwalk that would allow bicycle and pedestrian traffic across the north side of the rail bridge. The bridge, built in 1916, included “wagon ways” on its north and south sides for those on foot as well as horse-drawn wagons and later for automobiles.

The steel frames for both wagon ways are still in place. Their structural integrity would be the focus of the engineering studies. And the studies would determine a specific cost that for now McVean puts at “a couple of million dollars.”

Railroad executives have recommended two engineering firms for McVean’s group to consider. The railroad is using Modjeski and Masters, the engineering firm whose cofounder designed and built the Harahan Bridge in 1916.

McVean said his group will probably pick either HNTB Corp. of Kansas City, Mo., or HDR Inc. of Omaha.

Still forming are details of what would happen on the Arkansas side of the boardwalk. During some parts of the year, the area would be flooded, but there are general plans for a “levee park” in West Memphis that could include a series of trails along the levees.

Arkansas state Rep. and former West Memphis Mayor Keith Ingram said those talks with levee boards are still in preliminary stages.

“Getting that crossing is the first step,” Ingram said. “We still haven’t finalized all of that yet. We really have not yet met formally with the levee board.”

Ingram indicated the informal discussions he’s had have been encouraging.

The levee boards in other parts of the Delta have proven to be a tough sell for similar types of trails and greenways because of concerns on some levee boards that the pathways might detract from the primary purpose of the levees – flood control.

Ingram said he understands those concerns, but believes a river-crossing boardwalk might ease those concerns.

”I think all we have to do is look at what’s happened in Memphis. It’s remarkable,” he said referring to the development and heavy use of several trails and pathways in recent years. “One of the things that we have certainly talked about is how better to use our riverfront. … This would showcase what’s best about the Delta.”

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