A Bridge Too Far – Harahan Bridge Pedestrian Project Faces Major Issue – Alternatives Formulated

Harahan Bridge

Harahan Bridge

Too far in the red, so much so that not only are design modifications being researched, additional funding sought, but alternatives to the original bridge walk concept are being formulated. Bids for a major portion of the Main Street to Main Street Multi-Modal Connector Project, that for the development of the walking and bike path across the Mississippi River on the Harahan Bridge came in far higher than anticipated. The estimate for the bridge work was $16-million but the bids came in at $21-million, according to Project Director Paul Morris.

On November 20, 2013, Morris briefed members of the Center City Revenue Finance Corporation on the status of the project. He said  he is “guardedly optimistic” that a combination of modifications to the design of the bridge pathway and success in seeking additional funds will lead to the project being successfully completed.

The Main Street to Main Street project is an effort to both fix up existing infrastructure and build anew a pathway for pedestrians and bicycles from North Main Street in Memphis to Broadway Avenue in West Memphis, Arkansas, which is that city’s main street. As of August, 2013, the estimated cost for the entire project was $37.3-million.

Work began last week at the northern end of the project in Memphis. According to Morris, the downtown Memphis portion of the project is fully funded, bids came back on budget and construction began last week. Construction will be on a block by block basis so not to cause too much disruption at any one time.

Morris reported that bids on the bridge portion of the came back “way above” budget. “You never know what something is going to cost until you go and ask someone who can provide it to you for an actual price,” he said. When that was done, the bids for the bridge portion of the project came in at $21-million and that was “too much.” As a result, the design of that portion of the project is being reviewed for improvements and cost savings.

One of the areas of change may be the requirements imposed by the Union Pacific Railroad. The Harahan Bridge has been a rail bridge only since 1949, when automobile traffic was routed over the then new Memphis-Arkansas highway bridge. Naturally Union Pacific wanted to insure that conversion of the bridge to include pedestrian and bicycles did not disrupt its operations. Morris says some of their demands were quite expensive but that Union Pacific has said it would be flexible in working with the design firm to help lower the cost and is, in fact, currently  demonstrating that flexibility.

Morris went on to say that “while we tried to create the most efficient design the first time, they are now finding ways to make it more efficient and not sacrificing quality at all but just making it a better product.

The redesign of the bridge portion is expected to be complete and new bids sought in late January or February of 2014 with expectations the gap will narrow between the estimated cost and the original bids.

In addition to design changes for the bridge work, Morris says proponents of the project are trying to raise more money. Morris told the group, “we are also vigorously working on going to the private sector and other sources to raise more money.” Last week, according to Morris, the Plough Foundation pledged $1-million towards the project after being approached for help. “They determined that this project really was a catalyst for the whole community and part of the advancement of Memphis…”

In expressing his guarded optimism for the project, Morris went on to say that “… we are hoping we will be able to finish it and we think that we will. I don’t even want to talk about the alternative right now but we are coming up with Plan B and Plan C but we’re sticking with Plan A right now to finish the project.”

It might be noted here that there is an existing pedestrian sidewalk on the Memphis-Arkansas bridge. That bridge is the southern-most of three bridges located together and does not afford the better view of downtown Memphis as would the pathway on the Harahan Bridge, which would be the northern-most path on the three bridges.

Funding sources at the time of the original bids went out for the project include various federal programs contributing a total of $18.9-million, Tennessee state funds of $2-million, Shelby County $1-million, City of Memphis Storm Water Funds:  $6-million, CRA Tax Increment Financing  $2-million (funds are generated from excess tax collections in the specific geographic area known as Uptown and may only be used for infrastructure in that area),  Center City Revenue Finance Corporation $2-million and private contributions of about  $1-million.

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