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New paving highlights need for plan

My mom used to joke with my dad that when it comes to buying new furniture, you can’t just buy one piece.

If you buy a new couch, for example, all of the other pieces of furniture begin to show their wear and tear. Stains and marks suddenly appear. Dents and scratches emerge from nowhere.

Never mind that all of the pillows, candles and pictures that just don’t seem to fit anymore.

As a kid, I thought it was just my mother’s way of convincing my father to buy more furniture.

Recently, while driving through town, I have begun to understand her way of thinking.

Several years ago, I lamented having to maneuver through Natchez streets like a professional skier tackles a slalom course. Potholes and settled places were common along main downtown arteries.

In fact, some potholes were so notorious that you could tell which drivers were from out of town, because they were the only ones who didn’t know when to swerve at the right moment. One particular pothole on Canal Street near Broadway Street was a particularly effective visitor predictor.

Today many of the major thoroughfares in the city, from downtown streets to the U.S. 61 South have received fresh layers of asphalt. The drive through town has become refreshingly smooth.

Interestingly enough, those smooth-as-glass drives have only highlighted, for me at least, the other areas of town that sorely need attention.

That little pothole on the way home on High Street now looks more like a chasm. That drive down South Commerce Street now rattles a few of my fillings.

I am sure many of these areas were not much different a few months ago. But compared to the blemish-free streets in the middle of downtown, other surrounding streets no longer look so hot.

I guess if you translate my mother’s joke to the scale of the city, we need to pave more streets.

Of course, the only problem is that the city has no money.

In recent years, the mayor and board of aldermen have relied heavily on federal grant money for paving. The local dollars allocated in the city budget — around $30,000 a year or $2,500 a month — is quickly eaten up by pothole patching and other repairs.

While it might be easy to conclude that the city just needs to find more money — either through more grant money or more taxes — another conclusion might be more productive.

What Natchez needs is a plan — what many cities in America call a street paving program.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the city has adopted a street program in recent memory. Such would inspect and rate roadways, pinpoint which streets are scheduled for repaving and repairs and attempt to predict future paving projects.

Instead, the city relies on the federal grants to pull them through. Unless you live on a major city artery, it is highly unlikely that your street will be repaved with the current plan.

Meanwhile, The Natchez Democrat has started a new Monday feature that could help identify areas that need attention. Called “Please Fix,” the newspaper will highlight serious potholes, broken light fixtures, dead traffic signals and any other problems on public property.

We are asking readers to help us by telling us of problems they think the city, county or other public body need to fix. Suggestions can be sent by e-mail to newsroom@natchezdemocrat.com or can be called in at 601-445-3540.

Each week, we will select a suggestion and publish a photo and include a brief explanation of the situation.

We hope that by identifying the problems, we might encourage leaders to begin to prioritize and plan, instead of waiting on Uncle Sam.

Ben Hillyer is the web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.

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