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Transportation officials impressed with city’s hospitality

NATCHEZ — When members of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials came to Natchez, they spent a good deal of time in the Natchez Convention Center discussing transportation needs and projects.

But they didn’t spend all of their time in the convention center, and they were pleased with what they found when they went out on the town.

Kenneth Sweeney, the chief engineer for the Maine Department of Transportation, said he was pleasantly surprised by the city’s historic preservation and by how friendly everyone he met was.

And his pocketbook wasn’t hurt, either.

“Natchez is a place with reasonable costs, and it’s a place that is easy to get people to go to,” he said.

Floyd Roehrich, the state engineer for the Arizona Department of Transportation, said he spent time outside the conference marveling at the area’s geography, especially the Mississippi River, as well as the Natchez architecture and its seemingly preserved southern tradition.

“I really enjoyed the hospitality here,” he said. “It is a pretty unique little town.”

“For a town this size to be able to support this conference, Natchez has done a good job.”

Director of the Bureau of Highway Development for the Michigan Department of Transportation Mark Van Port Fleet said that the mini re-creations of annual Natchez events — the hot-air balloon race and Angels on the Bluff — for the conference made an impression on him.

“I would have never thought a visit to a cemetery would be so moving,” he said.

AASHTO employee Christine Beauvais said this trip was her first time to come to Mississippi, and she would consider coming again.

“It has more than met everybody’s expectations,” she said. “I did quite a bit a looking in the antiques stores downtown.”

Another AASHTO employee, Sheri Johnson, said when she had the chance she took some historical tours, touring both the Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture and the Forks of the Road site.

“It kind of opened my eyes to different things,” she said.

Like the others, she said the area’s hospitality was almost overwhelming.

“It’s like you built this town just for us,” she said.

“I have been teasing the Mississippi Department of Transportation, saying, ‘Somebody, please be mean to me.’”

The AASHTO conference was in town from Wednesday through Sunday.