City officials opened sealed bids Thursday for the old Highway 82 bridge restoration, but now they face a quandary: Adjust their budget, alter the plans or re-bid the project. Two companies placed bids, with both exceeding the budgeted cost of $2.2 million.
Malouf Construction LLC, of Starkville, came in with the low bid at $2.5 million. Phillips Contracting, of Columbus, entered a bid of $3 million.
The city is discussing the bids with the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration and should have a decision by next week, according to City Engineer Kevin Stafford.
The bridge, which spans the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway beside the Columbus Riverwalk, will be restored as closely as possible to its original condition and turned into a pedestrian walkway. It is being funded by $133,000 apiece from the city of Columbus, Lowndes County, and the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau. The remainder of the project will be funded by an MDOT grant.
Lead paint will have to be removed, and new paint and a coating sealant will be applied to protect it from rust. The concrete will be repaired and accent lighting will be added to accentuate the bridge as a showpiece for the downtown area, said Stafford. Bent and rusted railings will be replaced with new ones, and the discarded railings will be relocated to a nearby location for viewing. There will also be plaques commemorating the history and significance of the bridge.
The new walkway, which will be resurfaced, will also feature benches and trash cans designed to aesthetically match the Riverwalk’s design. The pedestrian walkway will connect the Riverwalk to the island where, according to Stafford, a residential neighborhood is planned and the county owns seven acres of land which could be developed.
Because of the uniqueness of the project, Stafford said it’s hard to estimate an exact cost. Sixty percent of the cost will be specialty items.
The 386 foot-long bridge was constructed by the state Department of Transportation between 1925 and 1927 and is designated as a swing-through Warren pony truss.
The swing-through portion of the bridge is located in the middle, where a crank allowed the center portion to pivot out at a 90-degree angle — opening as a gate would open — to allow large barges and ships to pass beneath the bridge.
The crank was likely only used a few times, but it would cost too much to restore it to working condition, Stafford said. Instead, the project design calls for a sheet of Plexiglas to be placed over the crank so it can be viewed.
The bridge is typical of early 20th century bridges, said Mississippi Landmarks Coordinator Swayze Pentecost, of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
It became a Mississippi Landmark in 1987 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. According to the MDAH website, the Mississippi Landmark designation is “the highest form of recognition bestowed on properties by the state of Mississippi and offers the fullest protection against changes that might alter a property’s historic character.”
Once the walkway is complete, it could be used for all sorts of activities, said Nancy Carpenter, executive director of the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau. The CVB is already interested in hosting a barbecue and blues event on the bridge.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.