Submitted photo / The Natchez Democrat — The eastbound Mississippi River Bridge was closed to traffic Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning because of icy conditions. Cars and trucks struggled Tuesday to get enough traction on the roadway.
Submitted photo / The Natchez Democrat — The eastbound Mississippi River Bridge was closed to traffic Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning because of icy conditions. Cars and trucks struggled Tuesday to get enough traction on the roadway.

Safety of motorists decision behind bridge closure

Published 12:01am Thursday, January 30, 2014

VIDALIA — Vidalia Police Chief Arthur Lewis said the decision to close a portion of the Mississippi River Bridge Tuesday night was made with one thing in mind — safety.

Vidalia Police Department officers were stationed at the foot of the eastbound Mississippi River Bridge at 7 p.m. Tuesday and eventually placed barricades to block traffic until Wednesday morning.

After seeing motorists slipping and sliding around city streets Tuesday afternoon, Lewis said the decision to close the bridge became clear.

“The roads just became far too dangerous for a lot of the people to travel on,” Lewis said. “Safety of the people is and always will be my primary thought with any decision made, and this decision was based on safety.

Submitted photo / The Natchez Democrat — Vidalia Police Department officers block the entrance to the eastbound Mississippi River Bridge Wednesday morning.
Submitted photo / The Natchez Democrat — Vidalia Police Department officers block the entrance to the eastbound Mississippi River Bridge Wednesday morning.

“It’s a decision I would make again.”

Natchez Police Chief Danny White placed officers at the foot of the westbound bridge to notify them of the dangerous travel conditions, but did not restrict travel into Vidalia.

“We just can’t shut it down,” White said. “You have to leave it open for people in case there’s an emergency.”

MDOT District Engineer Albert White said crews kept applying de-icing materials to the bridge Wednesday night to avoid another closure.

The decision to close any bridge during isolated weather or emergency situations falls on the local municipalities, Albert White said.

“It becomes a judgment call at that point, and the local law enforcement officials are the ones working the accidents in those areas, so we leave it up to them and work with them as much as we can,” White said. “We’re not going to tell them to keep it open when it’s dangerous, and they’re the ones patrolling the area.”

Albert White said the eastbound bridge itself didn’t present as many issues for motorists as the approaches before and after the bridge.

“Those areas are very steep and that’s where a lot of people were getting stuck, which would back up traffic on the bridge,” Albert White said. “We stayed in touch with the local police departments the whole time to figure out the best plan.”

Albert White said crews would continue applying sand and other de-icing materials to keep the bridge open, but that motorists should still use caution while crossing.

“We always want to keep that bridge open as much as possible, because that’s a major entry point for our state,” Albert White said. “For us in our district in MDOT, it’s as important as I-55 or U.S. 49.”