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VOL. 129 | NO. 221 | Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Work Begins on Big River Crossing

By Bill Dries

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Work began Monday, Nov. 10, on the Harahan Bridge boardwalk in a Downtown conference room as the contractor on the $17.5 million project, OCCI Inc. of Fulton, Mo., met with city leaders and explained the construction plan to come for what is now called the “Big River Crossing.”

Meanwhile, crews with Ferrell Construction were already at work on the approach to the Harahan Bridge itself for the bicycle and pedestrian paths on Riverside Drive and beyond.

Later Monday afternoon, nearly 100 leaders and officials on both sides of the bridge across the Mississippi River gathered at the Church on the River to formally mark the beginning of work and the end of a four-year fundraising and grant effort.

Paul Morris, project manager for the Main to Main Connector Project, ushers in the start of the project.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

Commodities trading firm founder and philanthropist Charles McVean spearheaded the talks with Union Pacific Railroad officials who own the nearly 100-year-old rail bridge that remains a vital freight corridor across the Mississippi River. He also coordinated the private fundraising efforts to rebuild the old publicly-owned wagon way attached to the bridge that was also used for auto traffic prior to the 1950 opening of the Memphis-Arkansas bridge.

“This bridge will be the longest bicycle pedestrian bridge in the world, bar none,” McVean said to those gathered by the church. “I challenge anybody to be out there in mid to high water, on the middle of that bridge with a massive train going by. That’s a different kind of experience. I don’t think anybody will forget that.”

Before McVean spoke a train’s low rumble could be heard moving westward across the bridge.

Leading the ceremonial opening with the bridge as a backdrop was Paul Morris, the project manager for the larger Main To Main Connector and president of the Downtown Memphis Commission.

“The contractor is released to work as of today,” he said later. “That means the clock starts ticking for the contractor to complete the work in their allotted time. The first thing they are going to do is start some bridge repairs on the steel from the boards that were ripped off in the ’50s and caused some damage to that steel. It will be later in the process where they put the planks on the bridge.”

OCCI did the seismic retrofitting of bearings on the Hernando Desoto Bridge across the river from 2009 to 2010. The project involved raising the bridge to remove existing bearings and replacing them with isolator lead rubber bearings on 12 piers.

OCCI also designed and built scaffolding the size of four basketball courts for crews to work on the underside of the bridge during a 2000-2002 seismic retrofit of the bridge.

“They build bridges all over the world – bike bridges and pedestrian bridges. They are experts at what they do,” Morris said.

McVean has been meeting with Arkansas political leaders to build support for development on the West Memphis side of the river and beyond including building on an agreement already with the St. Francis Levee Board to work toward bicycle and pedestrian trails atop 60 miles of levees the board controls extending to Marianna, Ark.

Such projects are familiar to Arkansas leaders through the Big Dam Bridge between North Little Rock and Little Rock that is for pedestrian and bicycle traffic only and is a major tourist attraction.

McVean recalled meeting the speaker of the Arkansas state House recently with state Sen. Keith Ingram of West Memphis.

“I said, ‘Mr. Speaker, please don’t take this the wrong way,’” McVean recalled. “’I’m very impressed with your Big Dam Bridge. But if you come over in Memphis in a little while, we’re going to show you what a damn big bridge looks like.’”

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