TOM CHARLIER | THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL
bout 100 feet above the churning waters of the Mississippi River, Harry Pratt is walking, yes walking, to Arkansas when one of the most special experiences to be had on the Harahan Bridge boardwalk takes place: a train passes by.
A long Union Pacific freight train heads slowly westward on the railroad that's less than 25 feet from the Big River Crossing, as the boardwalk is known, sending a rumble through the aluminum structure that will be accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians once it formally opens on Oct. 22.
"You can feel your feet vibrate, but it (the boardwalk) doesn't shake," Pratt, president of the firm Allen & Hoshall and technical project manager, said during the first media tour of the crossing.
With less than five weeks to go before the opening, the nearly $18 million boardwalk is undergoing some final electrical work involving lighting and completion of a roof over part of the structure to protect users from debris falling from trains. Construction of the approximately 5,000-foot-long project — 2,000 feet over water, 2,000 feet over land, plus about 1,000 feet of walkway in Arkansas — has taken two years.
The Big River Crossing is the centerpiece of the $40 million Main to Main Intermodal Connector project linking the downtowns of Memphis and West Memphis. It was funded in part through a federal Transportation Improvement Generating Economic Recovery grant, along with contributions from state and local governments and private sources.
The crossing is being built on the northernmost "carriageway" of the 100-year-old Harahan Bridge, a span primarily built for rail. The cantilevered carriageways on either side of the rail span carried vehicular traffic across the Mississippi until the four-lane Memphis & Arkansas Bridge opened in 1949.
During Monday's tour, which offered participants dramatic views of Downtown Memphis and barges passing below, Pratt spoke of the unique challenges of the project. They included repairing previously unknown structural problems in the carriageway and constructing what is meant to be a vandal-proof barrier between the boardwalk and railroad tracks.
The surface of the boardwalk has a high-friction coating and is perforated with slots to prevent water and ice buildups. "You're not going to lose your footing," Pratt said.
And because the entire bridge can expand nearly 2 feet in the heat, expansion joints were installed intermittently along the boardwalk.
There are security measures in place, as well, including lights and 46 cameras providing live images monitored by Memphis police. "You're always within sight of two cameras," Pratt said.
Doug Carpenter, principal of Doug Carpenter & Associates, said that once it's completed, the boardwalk will be operated by the city of Memphis.
DCA is developing the brand for both the Big River Crossing and the Delta Regional River Park, which is being established near the west end of the bridge in Arkansas