“A lot of people said we’d never get this bridge fixed,” said Itawamba County Second District Supervisor Ike Johnson, walking across the span of Walker’s Levee Bridge.
One corner of his mouth tilted upward in a grin. “But we got it fixed,” he said. “I’m really proud of that.”
After being closed for more than a month, the Ozark Community’s Walker’s Levee Bridge, the area’s sole access to the Tenn-Tom Waterway, is open to traffic again. Work on reinforcing the bridge wrapped up last Wednesday evening; the blockades and signs barring entrance were removed the following morning.
The bridge had been closed since early July after it failed to pass an inspection for State Aid certification.
While Walker’s Levee Bridge is still technically in place, crossers no longer make contact with the bridge itself. Instead, they travel atop a 90-foot railcar, which sits over the original bridge. New pylons were placed on both ends of the bridge to hold the new structure.
Once the railcar was delivered to the bridge, truncated light poles were used to create rollers beneath the railcar. Slowly, the railcar was pulled along these rollers until it covered the bridge.
Work on the bridge was handled by a small group of volunteers including Kenny Wayne Bennett, George McMullen, Bud Duvall, Billy Lindsey, Larry Cromeans, Graham Crafton, Terry Taylor and Tim Moore.
The bridge now stands approximately 33 inches higher than it did before. Fifteen loads of clay gravel — more than 600,000 pounds worth — were brought in to create small inclines leading up to the entrance on either side.
“The railcar’s not actually touching the old bridge,” Johnson said, dropping down the incline to point beneath the bridge. Sure enough, the base of the railcar hovered inches above the flooring of the original bridge. He said the only place the two actually connect is along the guardrails, which have been welded to the trusses.
The new version of the bridge has an 11-foot clearance and a weight limit of 11,000 pounds. Inspectors with the Federal Highway Administration are expected to examine and approve the bridge in the coming days.
Construction of the revamped bridge took approximately three weeks. The cost of the project was around $40,000 and was funded through a grant from Three Rivers Planning and Development Council.
The effort to save Walker’s Levee Bridge began in May when word spread it was to be closed. Members of the Ozark community, concerned about losing their lone access to the waterway, rallied to keep it open. During a special meeting at the bridge itself, supervisors explained that the 126-foot bridge, which area residents say was constructed around 1923 or so, was deemed unsafe by state officials. Supervisors openly disagreed with the assessment, but the point was moot. If the bridge hadn’t been closed, the county risked losing access to valuable State Aid funding. It wasn’t worth the trade off.
County officials explored several options for keeping the bridge, including both renovating the old bridge and outright replacing it. The railcar plan, the brainchild of Johnson, mixes a little bit of both options.
“We’ve still got the old bridge, right here,” he said, adding that residents didn’t really want to see the original bridge torn down. “We’re happy to be able to open it back up to the public for their recreational activities.”
Less than 24 hours after the bridge reopened, the signs blocking its entrance were taken down, and it was being used.
“I think we’ve had one or two cross already this morning, going fishing,” Johnson said.