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Bridge going high-tech soon

NATCHEZ — The Mississippi River bridge will be getting an approximately $1 million technology upgrade.

The upgrade will be funded by a $4.7 million grant the Mississippi Department of Transportation received from the U.S. DOT’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Discretionary Grants program.

The TIGER grant is for MDOT’s Intelligent Transportation System division and will be used to install Dynamic Message Signs, as well as an underwater acoustic Doppler radar system.

Michael Stokes, MDOT’s ITS program manager, said the digital message boards will be installed on the Vidalia and Natchez sides of the bridge and will alert motorists of traffic information such as lane closings or accidents, as well as weather warnings and Amber alerts.

Stokes said the signs could also be used to direct traffic for parking during large events.

The Natchez bridge, Stokes said, will be one of the first Mississippi bridges to receive the underwater Doppler radar system. The system will collect real-time river current speeds and levels. The data will be sent to a traffic management center, as well approaching boats and barges to warn them of flooding or eddies and help them have adequate time to plan an alternate route if needed.

Stokes said when a barge hits the bridge, MDOT has to shut the bridge down to investigate.

“It just causes chaos, and it’s a long detour around that bridge,” he said. “Anything we can do to prevent incidents is going to be benefit everyone.”

The radar system, Stokes said, will help prevent bridge accidents by providing fast, detailed data about the river, as well as allow officials to provide better information about potential flooding.

Stokes said the homeland security cameras currently installed on the bridge helped a lot during the flood in May, and the radar system will also enhance monitoring during flood stages.

The remainder of MDOT’s grant will be used for ITS technology improvements on the bridges in Vicksburg, Greenville and Helena, Ark.

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department also received funds from the TIGER program.

Stokes said because LaDOT and MDOT share the Natchez bridge as an entry point into its respective states, the two agencies will decide together how the upgrade costs will be shared.

MDOT’s grant was a part of a $511 million TIGER funds allotment by the U.S. DOT for a total of 46 transportation projects in 33 states and Puerto Rico.