The Big River Crossing (BRC) is a $17.5 million dollar bike/pedestrian pathway over the Harahan Bridge. The project rehabilitates the original1917 automobile route (4,973 ft long) adjacent to the active rail line on historic Union Pacific cantilevered truss bridge. The project establishes an alternative transportation route linking Memphis and West Memphis Arkansas and required extensive technical engineering in conjunction with Union Pacific engineering division. Specifications included pre-fabrication of pathway sections with extensive security measures put in place to protect both users and the active rail line. Section installation and structural rehabilitation of the cantilevered roadway is currently underway and highly anticipated by the public on both sides of the River. The finished bridge is expected to be an iconic alternative transportation feature on the Mississippi River providing opportunities for access, events, The Big River Crossing is part of a larger 10 mile “Main to Main” $43 million connector project between Main Street in Memphis and Broadway Avenue in downtown West Memphis.
Big River Strategic Initiative has assumed the lead role in bringing Union Pacific, communities and funders together to design and construct the Big River Crossing. Funding partnerships include the Plough Foundation, the Hyde Foundation, Autozone, the C.H. Boyle Foundation, City of Memphis, City of West Memphis, States of Tennessee and Arkansas Highway and Transportation Departments, the Federal Highway Administration, and numerous other foundations, organizations and individuals. These partnerships have facilitated one of the largest alternative transportation conversion projects over the Mississippi River.
Numerous public meetings have been held by the cities of Memphis and West Memphis, and Crittenden County to ascertain the need for the facility and the anticipated use and benefit. Radio, television, newsprint and internet articles have kept the public well informed regarding the planned project, its needs, opportunities and challenges. Events and celebrations have been held at critical junctures throughout the project life providing numerous opportunities for public input. Impacted user groups have been informed through regular updates during meetings and via internet communication, subsequently creating uniform support for this expansion of alternative transportation opportunities within the metropolitan region.
The project will support the creation of new alternative transportation systems while enhancing existing projects on both sides of the River. It is the premiere facility of the Main to Main project. The Big River Crossing has led to the creation of proposed 1,700 acre Delta Regional Park adjacent to the Bridge and the Mississippi River bank in eastern Arkansas providing scenic views of Memphis. A seven-mile trail system within the proposed park is funded with construction planned for 2016. This project established the need for the Big River Parkway Levee trail (73-miles) funded and under construction in Eastern Arkansas.
Historically, the Mississippi River has been an impediment to outdoor recreation within the region. This project creates a new sense of synergy between communities, highlights the vast power and unique presence of the Mississippi River, and conveys an image of growth toward a stronger, healthier community network of trails and outdoor recreation opportunities. The entire project is based on cross jurisdictional planning, development, construction and management between Crittenden County, West Memphis, Memphis and Shelby County. There is high potential for establishment of a permanent “Friends of the Big River Crossing” group to assist with future fundraising and help coordinate co-management between all entities involved. Numerous opportunities exist for expanded alternative transportation infrastructure, park development, and future greenspace management based on the Big River Crossing.
The Big River Crossing will continue to further impact parks, greenways, and open spaces far in the future. Two budding examples are the Delta Regional Park Project and the Big River Parkway Trail System each of which expands connectivity, protects sensitive areas, expands agricultural education, and provides new tourism potential. Regional interconnectedness is a primary objective of the project. Equitable participation and community ownership has been enhanced and will continue to grow within the eastern and western regions of two states. These regions will cross promote each other’s resources in a joint effort to develop an overall image of healthy living and sustainability that leads to better economic development and increased tourism. The new resource will help reduce harmful automobile emissions and impact underserved and unhealthy populations. Long-term regional planning will include new projects and programs that continue to enhance the regional interconnectedness and support sustainability throughout the urban region. The regional workforce will be positively impacted through new events, programs, outdoor recreational resource job opportunities, and regional, national, and global tourism.