By Rusty Hampton, Editor
At one time, Harry Sanders considered the Old Tombigbee River Bridge in Columbus, Miss., an “eyesore” that had seen better days.
In fact, Sanders, the president of the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors, told The Dispatch of Columbus he thought the bridge should have been torn down. Now the lifelong Columbus resident is glad that didn’t happen.
Last month, the bridge, which was built in 1927 and closed in 1991, was reopened – and repurposed.
Thanks to a $2.5 million rehabilitation project that was designed and managed by Neel-Schaffer, it’s now a pedestrian/ bicycle trail and park, an area available for special events.
“Today, standing here, I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Sanders told The Dispatch on Oct. 18, the day a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to officially reopen the refurbished bridge.
Kevin Stafford, PE, who manages Neel-Schaffer’s north Mississippi operations, represented the firm at the ribbon cutting.
The $2.5 million project was a joint venture, funded by a transportation enhancement grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the City of Columbus, Lowndes County and the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau. The bridge is on the National Register for Historic Places and for many years was the main crossing point into Columbus.
The rehab, performed by Malouf Construction, was extensive, from new underwater footings to enhanced lighting. All paint was stripped and the 604-foot bridge was repainted from end to end and top to bottom. Many structural components were repaired or replaced. Guardrails and rotted boardwalks also were replaced.
“We kept historical lighting where we could and added access lighting and carriage lighting to accent the bridge,” said Stafford.
The new trail and park were an immediate hit with Columbus residents, along with visitors like Bennett Bearden of nearby Tuscaloosa, Ala. Bearden, an attorney, wrote in an email to Stafford: “You guys did a marvelous job refurbishing a structure, which in my judgment, is the very symbol of your fair City.”
The bridge connects on the east end to the scenic Columbus Riverwalk, a 1.25- mile scenic trail that winds along the Tombigbee and also was designed by Neel-Schaffer.
“We have people already wanting to reserve the bridge for office parties,” said Stafford. “There’s going to be a couple of weddings and family reunions. And there’s talk of bands playing there.”