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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Memphis' newest attraction in 2016 will be a big draw for cyclists and others for many years to come

Memphis’ newest attraction in 2016 will be a big draw for cyclists and others for many years to come
By:  Michael Lander

This photo is of the Harahan Bridge showing a partially-constructed
portion of - The Big River Crossing that has been installed on this
100-year-old structure.

On Oct. 22, 2016, one of the biggest and newest attractions in
Memphis, and in West Memphis, Ark., will occur on top of one of the oldest structures connecting the two to one another.

This attraction will be a bicycle and pedestrian pathway known as “
The Big River Crossing,” and it is being built on the old wagon way of the 100-year-old, 4,973 foot truss, cantilever Harahan Bridge.

Click here to see a preview of what you can expect.

For the better part of a century, the bridge has had trains crossing over it and the turbulent waters of the
Mississippi River flowing beneath it, but in the not-so-distant future, it will also be known for so much more than that to generations of cyclists and pedestrians.

The century-old, rust-colored iron and steel bridge is destined to become a magnet for scores of people who will be drawn to what will inevitably become better known as "The Big River Crossing." 

This is a photo of the Harahan Bridge from a perspective that shows
the bridge supports and the Mississippi River below.

“When completed, the crossing on the Harahan will be a 10 foot wide and 4,827 foot long, a 54 inch (four foot, six inch) tall fence on the river side and an approximately 10 foot tall fence on the rail side of the bridge,”
Greg Maxted said.

Maxted is an advocate, promoter, and was once the executive director for "The Big River Crossing" project.

In addition to providing a safe and fun way for cyclists and pedestrians to get over the Mississippi River, and to get to and from
Tennessee and Arkansas, the crossing will also provide a beautiful and unparalleled view of the Memphis skyline and the river, a river of which helped to make the city what it is today.

This is a view of the Memphis skyline from the Harahan Bridge's
Big River Crossing.  (Photo:  Courtesy of Greg Maxted)

“The Main-to-Main Street project has already built connections on the Memphis side of the river and cyclists and pedestrians will be able to get to and from the Harahan via a sidewalk and bike lanes to Main Street in Memphis.  The riverfront also has an existing river walk, bluff walk, and sidewalk that will connect the bridge to
Tom Lee Park, Beale Street Landing, and over to Bass Pro Shop in the pyramid,” Maxted said.

“In addition to all this, the
City of Memphis has plans for a bicycle track on Jefferson from Third Street to Cleveland, more bike lanes on North Pkwy from McLean to Danny Thomas, and there is discussion of a future extension of a bluff walk, under the bridges, to Crump Park and the National Ornamental Metal Museum.  One of the most intriguing plans is also the Wolf River Conservancy’s Greenway project that is in the design phase,” he said.

This is a view of - The Big River Crossing looking
west toward Arkansas.  (Photo:  Courtesy of
Greg Maxted)

“On the Arkansas side of the river, there will be a 2.5-mile greenway from the bridge over the levee into West Memphis.  We are working with the City of West Memphis to develop an
eco-park on the west bank of the river, directly across from downtown Memphis.  So far, $1.5 million has been raised to create trails leading from the bridge to the river bank, and north, under I-40 to Dacus Lake and back,” Maxted added.

As big as “The Big River Crossing” might be, it is just a part of an even bigger and more ambitious plan for Maxted and others.

View of - The Big River Crossing looking west
with an incomplete portion in the
foreground.  (Photo:  Courtesy of Greg

“The big dream is to create a Big River Parkway Trail on top of the Mississippi River levees that run north to
St. Louis and south to New Orleans.  We are working with the St. Francis Levee Board and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to create a demonstration trail that will run north to Marion and south to Horseshoe Lake and Mariana, Ark.,” Maxted said.

“The number of visitors to the bridge and the creation of the eco-park will lead to new developments in West Memphis and
DeSoto County in Mississippi.  If this project follows the trend of other iconic bike and pedestrian river crossings, West Memphis will be the big winner of this,” Maxted added.

Construction of - The Big River Crossing officially began with
the groundbreaking in November 2014 and it is expected to
be finished by November 2016.

As with any project that is the size and magnitude of “The Big River Crossing,” there are plenty of players involved in the process in helping to bring it from the drawing board to a reality.

“The City of Memphis is building ‘The Big River Crossing’ as part of the Main Street-to-Main Street multi-modal connector project,” Maxted said.

“Terrence Patterson of the
Downtown Memphis Commission is the project lead, and he succeeded Paul Morris, in representing the City of Memphis for the crossing project.  Along with Patterson, Harry Pratt, from Allen & Hoshall, is the project manager, Cory Imhoff, from Henningson, Durham and Richardson (HDR, Inc.) is the engineering firm responsible for the design, and Seth Norment, is the project lead for the construction firm, OCCI, Inc., which is responsible for actually building the crossing,” Maxted added.

This is a close up of the Harahan Bridge with - The Big River Crossing
(to the right of it), which is currently being installed on the old
wagon way.
The crossing received considerable support across the spectrum of local, state, and federally elected officials, according to Maxted.

“Our local elected official have been the champions of this project from former Memphis Mayor,
A.C. Wharton, who was on board early and who gave us his full support, to Shelby County Mayor, Mark Luttrell, who helped us to get $1 million from the county, and to Memphis City Councilman Reid Hedgepeth who has been a tremendous supporter throughout the process,” Maxted said.

Steve Cohen was the big hero and he delivered the $14.9 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant,” he said.

“The key donors, on the private side, were
Charlie McVean, the Hyde Foundation, the Plough Foundation, the Boyle Foundation, FedEx, AutoZone, as well as a handful of private individuals,” he added.

This is a view looking west showing the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge
(on the left) and the Harahan Bridge (to the right) with a sidewalk
and a bike lane leading them to the Harahan.

According to Maxted, the total cost of the Main-to-Main project is about $39 million with the bridge work, itself, coming in at about $20 million.  A total of about $39.31 million in funds was provided, he said, with $14.9 million coming from Tiger IV, $4.8 million coming from private contributions, $2.2 million from the Federal Transit Authority, via the Memphis Area Transit Authority (
MATA), $1 million from TDOT, and others.

The idea for the Harahan Bridge Project seems to have begun with a simple bike ride from Memphis to Arkansas and back.

“Everything began with a bike ride with Mark Miesse, my brother, Jim, and me over the Memphis-Arkansas bridge,” Maxted said.

This is a view of the sidewalk and bike lane that goes to and
from the Harahan Bridge and - The Big River Crossing in

After that experience, the three all came to the same conclusion that the wagon way on the Harahan Bridge would be a much better and safer option and that it should be re-opened as a bicycle and pedestrian pathway.

“Mark Miesse and I were board members for the Greater Memphis Greenline so we brought it before the board who voted to promote the idea in the spring of 2010.  I met with Charlie McVean in late 2010 and he had eventually hired me in January 2011 to work full-time advocating this project.  A month later, Charlie McVean brought fourteen business and civic leaders to Omaha, Neb. to meet the CEO of
Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR).  He gave us the greenlight and the search for funding began,” Maxted said.

A sidewalk and bike lane will provide pedestrians and cyclists
easy access from downtown Memphis to West Memphis,
Ark.  It is part of the Main-to-Main Street project, much
of which has already been completed.

“Later, after doing some research, I found out that this idea has been brought up several times after 1950, but it took Charlie McVean to make it happen this time,” Maxted added.

Since the groundbreaking took place in November 10, 2014, the first section of the crossing was put into place in June 2015, and the completion of the sections above the river is expected to be finished in February of this year.  The sections over the Arkansas flood plain should begin in March and the project is currently expected to be fully completed by November 2016.

The only unexpected problems or delays in the project, Maxted said, have involved the first bids in late 2013 that were outside of the budget, which added a year to the completion date when the crossing had to be re-engineered.  Some flooding in August 2015 and again in January 2016 also caused some delays as well.

This is a sign that is mounted on the 100-year-old Harahan Bridge showing what
it is constructed of and when it was completed, which was July 14, 1916.

Despite any setbacks, the overall response and feedback from the general public seems to be overwhelming positive.

“The interest has been great.  Folks I talk to cannot wait to walk, run, skate, ride, and dance across the river.  Early on, people were supportive, but they assured me that the Union Pacific would never allow it to happen.  Now that construction is well underway, and folks see the possibilities, the excitement is building,” Maxted said.

That excitement is certain to only grow as the crossing becomes one of the biggest attractions that will bring cyclists and pedestrians from just about everywhere who will want to see and experience it for themselves for many years to come. 

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