It's been called the "bridge to nowhere."
With that bridge--the Harahan--as backdrop, Charlie McVean announced to a gathering of media and stakeholders in Martyr's Park that a memorandum of understanding had been signed between the Big River Strategic Initiative and the board of the St. Francis Levee District of Arkansas to allow cyclists and pedestrians to use the pathways along the top of the levees along the Mississippi River.
"The 'bridge to nowhere' is now the 'bridge to everywhere,'" said Terry Eastin, Executive Director of the Big River Strategic Initiative.
The announcement is a welcome one for those looking forward to riding bikes, jogging or walking across the Big River Crossing come spring of 2016. The use of the Arkansas levees was the last obstacle to an unbroken, 670-mile trail of bikeways that reach from Memphis to New Orleans. It is part of the larger Big River Parkway stretching the length of the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
The organizations and entities involved in the plan include Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the Harahan Bridge, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the St. Francis Levee District and city and state representatives. The National Geographic Society was approached by Eastin and will promote the pathway as a geotourism destination, focusing on local color and with the potential to attract cycling enthusiasts from the world over.
"It's the first way I've ever heard of for small businesses to promote themselves globally, and we think this is a very, very big deal," McVean said of National Geographic's interest.
Despite such promise, the cost of the project, and specific sources for funding, is in ongoing discussions.
The Levee District was created by the Arkansas State Legislature in 1893 to protect seven counties. Any road design atop the levees will ultimately have to be approved by its board, and for safety's sake there may be a pass system put in place to keep track of who is on the levee and when. For now, the plan is to feature crushed limestone pathways similar to those of the 240-mile Katy Trail State Park in Missouri. There are 62 miles of levee included that run parallel to the river.
"We feel like this is a great opportunity to partner with our friends here in Tennessee and Memphis," said Steve Higginbothom, Chairman of the St. Francis Levee Board. "We've worked with both mayors, who are advocates of this, as well as your congressional representation. We look forward to being a partner in this project."
Commodities broker and visionary McVean, founder of McVean Trading & Investments, is spearheading the initiative and sees the opening of the Big River Crossing and connection to the levees as a potential global media event. He is calling for a Memphis-to-New Orleans bicycle race to begin on the day after the opening of the Big River Crossing.
By Richard J. Alley