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    Harahan Bridge project attracts Plough pledge

    Wayne Risher

    November 7, 2013 — The Memphis & Arkansas Bridge (from left), Frisco Bridge and Harahan Bridge are seen from below on the Memphis side of the Mississippi River. Work will soon begin transforming the northern side of the Harahan Bridge into a pedestrian and bike friendly boardwalk. (Mike Brown/The Commercial Appeal)


    A planned pedestrian and bicycling bridge over the Mississippi River got a big boost Thursday with news of a $1 million pledge from the Plough Foundation.
    The boardwalk-like attachment to the Union Pacific Railroad’s Harahan Bridge is the linchpin of a more than $35 million project to connect Memphis and West Memphis with continuous walking and bicycling paths.
    It’s part of an effort to spur tourism and continue the redevelopment of neighborhoods and the old central business district that stretches along the Memphis riverside.
    Plough’s is the latest private pledge earmarked for the single most expensive feature of the Main to Main Multi-Modal Connector Project, which will run 10 miles from Uptown Memphis to Broadway in West Memphis.
    An initial bid for the bridge came in around $21 million, nearly $10 million higher than previously estimated, but organizers are closing the gap by securing additional private and public funds and redesigning to reduce costs. Officials expect to rebid the bridge and an Arkansas section of trail early next year.
    The Plough commitment, which brings total private pledges to nearly $2.8 million, is contingent on raising sufficient funds and the project being built.
    “It’s a huge, huge momentum builder as we go to other sources,” said Paul Morris, Main to Main project manager and president of the Downtown Memphis Commission. “The Plough Foundation’s motto is to do the most good for the most people in Memphis. They have affirmed by their action, to me, that they believe this project is instrumental to the future of Memphis.”
    Officials at the Memphis foundation were impressed by the project’s scope.
    “When we looked at this project, it’s more than just a pedestrian boardwalk across the Mississippi,’’ said Mike Carpenter, Plough Foundation executive director. “It has more far-reaching impact in terms of economics, in terms of helping continue the revival of Downtown, in terms of attracting both talent to the city and visitors and tourists, and creating what’s really a national and international landmark for the community. I think that’s what really drove our support for the project.”
    The announcement came as a contractor was cleared to begin work on the first leg of Main to Main: new sidewalks, curbs, gutters, lighting and other street-related improvements on Carolina from South Main to Channel 3 Drive.
    The work on Carolina is part of $9.1 million in street-related infrastructure work on the Memphis side of the river that’s expected to be under construction by year’s end. Main to Main will create a more walkable, wheelchair-accessible Downtown, upgrading Civic Center Plaza and the Main Street Mall, building or repairing sidewalks and improving South Main.
    Previous private pledges to the Harahan bridge include $1.1 million from entrepreneur and cycling promoter Charles McVean, $250,000 from the Hyde Foundation, $250,000 from an anonymous donor, $50,000 from the Boyle family and $111,391 from others.
    The pledge continues a busy year for Plough, the charitable foundation funded by the late Memphis business icon Abe Plough, whose patent drug and cosmetic businesses became Schering-Plough, now a unit of health care giant Merck. The foundation makes grants off $120 million in assets.
    Plough has aided Rhodes College, Shelby Farms, Hattiloo Theatre, the Regional Medical Center at Memphis burn unit, Arts Memphis, Graduate Memphis, Project Safeways and the Memphis Strong Families Initiative, among other causes.
    Carpenter oversaw the Main to Main project for Memphis Mayor A C Wharton before going to the Plough Foundation last summer.
    His connection gave the Plough board a better understanding of the project, which involves multiple government jurisdictions and will be built under five separate contracts.
    “Having been the project manager on this, one of the things I know, and I think our board came to understand, is it’s not really five different segments. From the federal government’s standpoint, it’s one project. It’s multimodal. It’s multijurisdictional. We can’t just do Main Street or the Arkansas piece. We’ve got to close that gap” on the bridge project.
    A $14.9 million federal TIGER grant — Tiger for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery — is the largest single chunk of nearly $33 million in government funding committed to the project by federal, state and local governments.
    Morris said the funding gap is a moving target at this point. Officials will reassess once the project is re-engineered and bids are received, which is likely to be late January, early February.
    Wharton hasn’t ruled out seeking Memphis capital improvement program funding for the project, but has assured the City Council that organizers won’t seek city capital improvement funding until other sources are exhausted.
    “We are working aggressively on that pledge to get money from other sources,” Morris said.
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