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VOL. 129 | NO. 137 | Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Levee District Lends Support to Big River Crossing

By Bill Dries

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Proponents of the Harahan Bridge bicycle and pedestrian boardwalk have announced a new milestone for the project.

The project – recently rebranded as the Big River Crossing – now has a memorandum of understanding with the St. Francis Levee District of Arkansas for a set of crushed limestone trails atop levees covering more than 60 miles and two counties in Arkansas, including Crittenden County and the city of West Memphis.

“It’s a simple one-page document that says we want to be partners with you,” said Steve Higginbotham, director of the levee district. “We’re going to work a lot of these details out later, but we can go forward as a team now. We don’t want to have this wonderful bridge and a U-turn sign in West Memphis that says all you can do is turn around.”

The district, headquartered in West Memphis, covers levees in six counties from the Missouri Bootheel to the confluence of the St. Francis River.

“For now we are just talking about the West Memphis levee south to Marianna,” Higginbotham said. “We wanted to make sure it was only pedestrians and bicycles. … We wanted to understand that we didn’t want a lot of liability.”

For that reason, any trails on the levees would probably involve a pass system of some kind.

The announcement was made at Martyr’s Park Downtown near the Memphis side of the Harahan Rail Bridge by commodities firm founder Charles McVean, who has been the most vocal proponent of the river crossing and linking up to other bicycle trails that stretch south along the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.

“There were those who wanted to allege that we were dealing with a bridge to nowhere,” McVean said. “This is the last piece of right-of-way we had to have to go to New Orleans … by the time the Big River Crossing opens in the spring of 2016.”

The bridge-crossing boardwalk itself is being rebid after initial cost estimates came in too high. The new bids are scheduled to be opened in August.

Meanwhile, West Memphis leaders have been working on a plan that would includes trails in the flood plain on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River directly across the river from Memphis.

The river park envisioned would take in such sites as the old Hopefield settlement that predated West Memphis, as well as Dacus Lake and Native American trails on the flood plain when the river waters are not covering parts of the area.

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