We expect to complete the bridge and have it open to the public in July or August of 2014, so the bridge itself will actually be completed at that point…We’re still on schedule and we’re going to stay on schedule.
— Mike Carpenter, Project Manager, Main Street to Main Street Multi-modal Connector Project, April, 2013
If you were to believe today what Mike Carpenter said 16 months ago, you likely would be in a world of trouble. While the Harahan Bridge pedestrian and bicycle path was to have been finished by this month, it has not even started construction. If you were to try to walk it, your first obstacle likely might be homeland security which is quite protective of that bridge. If you got on the bridge without being arrested and tried to walk where the “Big River Crossing” path is supposed to be, you would have to pick your way very carefully and even then you might well end up falling into the Mississippi River. A somewhat safer route might be the railroad right of way, but then both homeland security, railroad agents, and possible a locomotive would be coming at you.
A suggestion, do not try to walk across the Harahan Bridge and, regretfully, do not believe much of what you hear from government and quasi-government officials.
It is sad but one would guess not wholly unexpected that the project is this far behind, despite Carpenter’s assurances it would stay on schedule. It seems government activities often run late and more expensive than announced.
It is because the Harahan Bridge portion of the Main Street to Main Street walkway and bicycle path received bids that were millions of dollars over the initial estimates that a year after the route was promised to be open construction has not started yet. The design engineers thought it would cost something like $16.7-million. The lowest bid was closer to $21-million. So it was back to the drawing board, or probably more accurately, the computers, to redesign the bridge pathway to lessen the cost. In the meantime, Carpenter moved on to work at the Plough Foundation and Downtown Memphis Commission President Paul Morris took over the difficult job of Project Manager. Meetings with prospective contractors have been held and tomorrow, August 8, 2014, there will be an opening, not of the walkway but of the new bids.
A combination of federal, state, and local, and private dollars are being allocated for the “Main2Main” project, which was expected overall to cost $35-40-million. One of the leading private sector proponents of the effort is Charlie McVean of McVean Trading & Investments. He has flatly said that the money will be there for the construction. The project entails more than just the bridge, though that’s the major expense. It includes repaving much of the sidewalk areas from North Main Street in Memphis and creating the pedestrian and bicycle path from there to the bridge, and then a new path from the west side of the bridge in Arkansas to Broadway Boulevard/Avenue in West Memphis.
Many think this is a very cool project. It may take an extra cool million, or maybe several more cool millions of dollars to get it done. It will be very interesting to see what the price is and what we actually get for that money if the pathway is completed as planned.
(Public bid opening: August 8, 2014, 2 p.m. Memphis City Hall, Council Chambers)
Update: August 10, 2014-Two firms submitted bids for the Harahan Bridge portion of the Main Street to Main Street project on Friday, August 8. The proposal contained 3 primary alternatives and some options within those, the bidders were able to choose which alternative(s) upon which they bid. This observer does not know the specifications of the various alternatives. The base bids ranged from an apparent low of $17,469.742.10 to an apparent high of $19,362,042.04. Again, this observer does not know what flexibility the city may have, but it may be that it can select the lowest and best bid based on criteria which includes the alternative plan it deems most desirable.
Update: August 12, 2014-Project Manager and Downtown Memphis Commission President Paul Morris says although the bids were about $4-million lower than the first round the gap between funding available at the time of the bid opening and the low bid is about $2.5-million and that construction will not begin until the gap is closed. Private donors will be asked to make up the difference, several of which have already said they stand ready to assist. He said even so it will be some time before a contract is executed as engineers and others examine the bids for validity and insure conformance with specifications. Nevertheless, Morris says while he has always been cautiously optimistic, “[F]or the first time I really think this project is going to happen.” A contract is anticipated within 90 days and construction should be complete in 18 months. Morris says he looks forward to the pedestrian and bicycle path across the bridge to be open in the spring of 2016.