Congressman Steve Cohen

Representing the 9th District of Tennessee

Big River Crossing Has Opened on the Historic and Iconic Harahan Bridge!

October 25, 2016

Dear Friend,

On Saturday, I attended the grand opening ceremony for the Big River Crossing pedestrian and bike path across the historic and iconic Harahan Bridge in Downtown Memphis. The views were gorgeous; the lights were beautiful; and as Memphis philanthropist and visionary for the project Charlie McVean said, “It’s as close as you can ever get to a moving freight train.”

View from Big River Crossing on the Harahan Bridge

The Harahan Bridge will be equipped with 100,000 LED lights to illuminate the bridge nightly. The lights can also change colors for special occasions and holidays.

Big River Crossing is an integral section of the Main to Main Intermodal Connector project which connects Main Street Memphis to Main Street West Memphis via pedestrian and bike paths. In 2012, I was proud to work with then-U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to help secure nearly $15 million in federal funding through the TIGER grant program to help fund this project. Former President of the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) Paul Morris said: 

“It was Congressman Cohen's idea five years ago to join the DMC's Main St. Improvement project with Charlie McVean et al's vision to build a bike trail on the Harahan to make a compelling TIGER Grant application. Even then, USDOT gave us a 5% chance of TIGER award until Congressman Cohen personally advocated for our project to his old congressional colleague and friend Ray LaHood, who happened to then be the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Even after the award, Congressman Cohen helped us get out of a ditch when the first bids were way over budget and we needed a time extension from USDOT so we could go back to the drawing board.”

Congressman Cohen speaks during the Big River Crossing opening ceremony

The federal TIGER grant was accompanied by public funding from the City of Memphis and Shelby County and private funding from a number of local philanthropists and companies. Together, through this public/private partnership, we created the country’s longest public pedestrian and bike path, spanning 4,973 feet across the Mississippi River. 

Ribbon cutting ceremony for Big River Crossing. Pictured left to right: Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Charlie McVean, Congressman Cohen, Charlie Newman and Paul Morris 

Big River Crossing and the Main to Main project are also expected to spark economic growth in Downtown Memphis, creating jobs, increasing tourism and attracting Millennials to the historic South Main District. Terence Patterson, president of the Downtown Memphis Commission, told the Commercial Appeal, “Once The Big River Crossing is open, we anticipate that even more Memphians and tourists will flock to this part of Downtown, bringing new amenities and businesses with it.” City officials say the Main to Main project has expedited an estimated $225 million in new economic development along Main Street, Front Street and Carolina Avenue.

Congressman Cohen and local philanthropist and visionary for Big River Crossing Charlie McVean

Big River Crossing was also a key piece of the grant application for the $30 million Choice Neighborhood grant I helped secure from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to revitalize Foote Homes in South City. President Obama’s Choice Neighborhoods program aims to transform neighborhoods suffering from poverty into viable mixed-income neighborhoods by investing in better housing and living conditions, effective schools, public transportation and improved access to jobs. The City of Memphis’s Housing and Community Development director Paul Young told the Commercial Appeal, “The synergy of all of these activities create an environment where we believe growth and development will continue, not only in the Downtown core, but the areas on the outskirts of Downtown as well.” 

Congressman Cohen, leading the Tennessee delegation, meets with Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson in the center of the bridge. Following Congressman Cohen are Charlie McVean, the brainchild and ramrod of Big River Crossing, and his attorney Charlie Newman who did a masterful job of seeing this project through to fruition. 

On Saturday, as I walked along the pedestrian path, I noticed a plaque from the Harahan Bridge dedication in 1916. The plaque honored two of my predecessors, Kenneth McKellar and E.H. Crump, who similarly secured federal funding for the construction of the Harahan 100 years ago. McKellar served as a U.S. Senator from Tennessee from 1917-1953 and as the Congressman representing Memphis from 1911-1917. Crump served as Mayor of Memphis from 1910-1915 and as the Congressman representing Memphis from 1931-1935. Seeing this plaque, which has likely not been seen since car traffic ceased on the bridge in 1950, connected me with my predecessors and made me proud to be among the group of people serving Memphis in Congress who have brought home federal funding to make the Harahan Bridge what it is today and make Memphis even greater.

The weather is supposed to be fantastic this weekend, so I encourage everyone to head downtown to take advantage of one of the country’s most ambitious and impressive bicycle and pedestrian pathways. As Charlie McVean told me when we announced the TIGER grant in 2012, “This is one of the biggest things that has ever happened to Memphis.” He was right.   

As always, I remain.
Most sincerely,

Steve Cohen
Member of Congress