Residents getting used to Liberty Road construction

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Navigating Seargent S. Prentiss Drive has become, at the very least, an ever-changing challenge for local drivers.

As construction at the highway&8217;s intersection with Liberty Road has progressed, entrance ramps have disappeared, moved and reappeared in the most unlikely of places. One road that used to take you somewhere now dead ends, and the red lights are quite patient.

Along the way a fire station, gas station and several offices picked up and moved &8212; all now up and running in their new buildings.

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Seasons passed. School years ended. Bridges came down. Now, halfway through, folks are getting used to it.

Betsy Feltus lives nearby and has grown accustomed to changes in her daily drive.

&8220;It&8217;s a challenge,&8221; Feltus said. &8220;I just entered from Liberty Road, and I wanted to take a left, but I had to turn around and come back. It takes planning.&8221;

But the struggle is worthwhile, she said, and she&8217;ll wait on the finished product.

&8220;In the meantime, we just have to be patient.&8221;

Once the speed limit officially dropped from 45 to 35 in March, people started adjusting, Police Chief Mike Mullins said.

Soon after work started in October 2005 there were seven car accidents in the area. This month, there have been four, Mullins said.

Police still run radar and ticket in the area, as extra encouragement for drivers to be careful, he said.

Home Hardware Center Manager Brian Massey said the roadwork hasn&8217;t had a major effect on his Seargent S. Prentiss business.

&8220;The only time we have a problem is when it gets down to one lane,&8221; Massey said Friday. &8220;It hasn&8217;t been a hassle at all.&8221;

Sandy Griffin, a customer at the store, said he did not mind if traffic was a little slow now and then.

&8220;I just like to see improvement,&8221; Griffin said. &8220;I&8217;ve got patience, and I&8217;m in no hurry.&8221;

Down the street at the Shell station, cashier Gena Hammond said she didn&8217;t think the construction hurt or helped business.

&8220;It is kind of hectic trying to get to work sometimes when traffic is backed up, but it doesn&8217;t take much extra time,&8221; Hammond said.

The construction and plethora of signs confuse visitors, though, she said.

&8220;People from out of town come in asking for directions,&8221; she said.

Greg Smith, one of the owners of Smith Printing and Office Supplies, said his business has not suffered because of construction in the past months.

&8220;In fact, the red light up there gives us a break in traffic so people can turn in,&8221; Smith said Friday. &8220;People complain about it, but they still come in. I haven&8217;t had any problem getting to work, but we&8217;ll see once school starts.&8221;

Superintendent Anthony Morris said the road construction is definitely a worry for the district as the first day of school approaches, but its nothing they didn&8217;t deal with last year.

Natchez High School is at one end of the construction and McLaurin Elementary School is at the other end.

&8220;Almost daily there were minor changes out there (last school year),&8221; Morris said. &8220;It has always been a major concern for the bus traffic and the parents picking up children.&8221;

But district officials and bus supervisors receive frequent updates from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, Morris said. In the spring there were a few minor delays in bus transportation, he said, but no major problems.

&8220;Overall it worked a lot better than I thought,&8221; he said.

&8220;You just have to plan for the extra time. And now that you can go down both sides of the bridge I think that will make things flow a little smoother than they had been. I&8217;m hoping it won&8217;t be any worse than it was last year.&8221;

A second turn lane into Natchez High is set to open when school starts.