Monday, December 07, 2009

Vicksburg, Miss., again seeks funds for Clark Street bridge

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Mayor Paul Winfield returned to Vicksburg, Miss., from a three-day trip to Washington, D.C., where he visited local delegates in a continued effort to wrest from federal sources nearly $4 million to get the stalled Washington Street bridge replacement under way, according to the Vicksburg Post.

"This was kind of a last-ditch effort to meet with everyone to try to make sure we get the funding," said Winfield of his solo trip that began Tuesday. "It's been a brief trip, but it's been very positive."

The 80-year-old bridge at Clark Street - a vital part of the city's main north-south thoroughfare through downtown - has been closed to all traffic since January. It is to be replaced with a road-topped railway tunnel. A bid of $8.6 million for the work from Kanza Construction of Topeka, Kan., is in place. However, approximately $3.8 million in funding is not.

While in D.C., Winfield met with U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, as well as U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson and some of the delegates' aides. He said all understand the urgent need to get funding in place for the project, and said several options were discussed.

"We're trying about three or four different routes," the mayor said.

The preferred and quickest route, Winfield said, would be for the project to be included in a stimulus-like bill being advocated by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. If that option falls through, the mayor said local delegates are working to find the $3.8 million through MDOT via money dedicated to other road and bridge projects in the state that are not ready to get under way. If one of those options comes through, Winfield estimated the funding for the bridge replacement could be in place shortly after the first of the year. If not, the additional funding may not be in place until next fall, he said.

"Then we'll have to go through the regular process of applying for funding in the 2011 fiscal year budget ... and funding would kick in around October," he said.

The tunnel is estimated to take anywhere from a year to 18 months once work begins. When the city began planning for the bridge replacement in 2006, it estimated the cost at $5 million and set aside exactly that much of a $16.9 million bond issue for the work. The Federal Railroad Administration is to reimburse the city $4 million of the cost.

However, when bids were taken on the work earlier this year the cost had grown to nearly twice the original estimate. The not to exceed $8.6-million contract with Kanza was secured this summer after months of negotiations. City officials under former Mayor Laurence Leyens began scrambling for the extra funds, and Winfield has inherited the problem since taking office in July.

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