Tunnel gets facelift

Published 6:00 am Saturday, December 9, 2006

A 200-year-old downtown tunnel is getting a facelift.

The brick canal under Canal Street is being refurbished to prevent flooding in north Natchez and the street’s collapse.

The bottom portion, a brick drainage ditch, was likely constructed by the Spanish in the early 1790s, Historic Natchez Foundation Director Mimi Miller said.

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The top portion, a brick arch, was constructed sometime later, completing the tunnel.

Over time, the structure has deteriorated, so the city has started renovations, City Engineer David Gardner said Friday.

“Rather than removing it and putting in a new pipe, we’re building a pipe inside of it,” Gardner said.

Workers are lining the tunnel with wire and steel and will spray the inside with concrete.

“It’s the same material on the bluff that will be inside that thing,” he said. “We hope to get it good and strong so it will be sturdy for the next 200 years.”

Lining the tunnel is only the first phase of the project.

In the second phase, the city will improve the drainage system in north Natchez, directing runoff to the newly refurbished Canal Street tunnel.

Tunnel renovation will also prevent portions of the street from collapsing, as they have in the past, Gardner said.

“Any time we have to go in and make a repair (after a collapse), it costs $100,000,” he said.

“It’s a lot cheaper to go in and rehabilitate the existing structure before it collapses.”

The $3,025,695.60 project is being entirely funded through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

The first phase should be finished around the end of June, he said, at which point the second phase would begin.

The tunnel itself is fascinating, he said.

“It’s big enough to where a man can walk through it, and it’s really interesting to see the network of branches that come off this thing,” Gardner said.

“You can just walk all different parts of town underground in this thing.”

Because the tunnel was built so long ago, it is in desperate need of strengthening, he said.

“It was built before we had Greyhound Busses and 18-wheeler trucks,” he said.

“That thing was built a long time ago when just horses and mules went across it.”

Although it may need updating, Gardner marveled at the tunnel’s resilience.

“It was a wonderful piece of engineering back then for it to last this long,” he said.

“If I built a pipe and it lasted 200 years, I would say it was engineered pretty well.”