Bridge of Sighs project held up after preservation commission meeting

Published 12:13am Thursday, November 14, 2013

NATCHEZ — A little more than a month after rejecting bids that came in over budget, the City of Natchez’s Bridge of Sighs project hit another snag this week.

The Natchez Preservation Commission asked City Engineer David Gardner Tuesday at its meeting for detailed plans of the historic replication of a pedestrian bridge that crossed Roth Hill Road.

Despite receiving approvals for the bridge from the project’s federal and state funding agencies, it never received approval from the preservation commission, which Gardner said was an oversight.

“I don’t know how that happened,” he said. “I guess it was my mistake. I thought we had preservation approval, too, but we did not.”

Complete and detailed plans for the project cannot be provided, Gardner said Wednesday, because the pedestrian bridge is prefabricated, meaning it will be built off-site by a manufacturer and assembled on location.

“It’s a lot more cost-effective and economical, and it makes sense to do it that way,” Gardner said.

The disadvantage of using a prefabricated bridge for the project, Gardner said, is because manufacturers have proprietorship of their designs, specific measurements and dimensions, which would not be available for the preservation commission until after bids are received.

Gardner said he is going to work with a landscape architect he knows in an effort to draw up a rendition that will show the commissioners what the bridge will look like when it is completed.

Preservation Commission Chairwoman Marty Seibert said commission members hope for a rendition that will allow the commission to better visualize the bridge to ensure its design is appropriate.

Gardner said he hopes the rendition will satisfy the commission’s concerns because the city is in jeopardy of losing funding for the project.

The project has received two $100,000 grants, one from the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and the second from the Federal Highway Administration. Both grants are being administered by the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

“If I go back to those funding agencies and say we’re going to scrap the design, they are not going to (formally) give me an extension, and we’re going to lose the funds,” Gardner said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Seibert said the commission is in no way challenging Gardner or wants the city to lose its funding.

The bridge is “such an important undertaking” in a “prime spot,” Seibert said, that the commission wants to make sure plenty of expertise is used in the design.

“There just needs to be some more expertise, so it can be something everybody is happy with and everyone can enjoy,” Seibert said.