Bridge lights safe for river traffic

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 23, 2010

VIDALIA — Despite a few reports of concern, officials feel confident the new lighting on the Mississippi River bridge is safe for river traffic.

Mississippi Department of Transportation resident engineer Jim Eggleston said his office had received one complaint call from the U.S. Coast Guard, but no other problems have been encountered.

Eggleston said the Coast Guard received complaints that the $3 million lighting system turned on in June reportedly made it difficult for some tugboat pilots to see.

Eggleston did say MDOT had a plan in place just in case the lights made it a challenge for the tugboat pilots to see.

“When the bridge is finally finished, we will give a phone number to the tugboat captains to call if they are having a hard time seeing,” he said. “When they call the number, the lights are shut off so that they can see better.”

Eggleston said crews contracted by MDOT have been working on the lights since July 2009, and by the end of this month, things should be complete.

“We have to run some tests on the lights, but other than that, we should be good to go,” he said.

Carla Jenkins, manager of Vidalia Dock and Storage, said she has heard more good than bad about the new lighting.

“The pilots that work for me all said that the lighting just took some getting used to,” she said. “The new lights have helped the pilots center the boats easier.”

Jenkins said the piers under the bridge are a lot easier to see because of the lights.

“It really lights up the piers and helps my pilots line up better when they are trying to pass through.”

Jenkins said a pilot who has worked for her for 18 years was even saved from some damage by the lights.

“He was getting close to the bridge and did not know there was a barge close to the bank,” she said. “The new lights on the bridge allowed him to see better so he could avoid it.”

Travis Morace, tugboat captain for Vidalia Dock and Storage, said the new lights have helped him out while driving the boat at night.

“I like them,” he said. “I don’t have to run the spotlight on my boat to see where I am going. They have made my job easier and safer.”

Morace said boat captains from further north have even told him how they feel about the lights.

“I have had other boat captains tell me that this is how the bridges up north look, and that they were glad the new lighting was in place,” he said.

Morace also said the lights did more than help make the piers and the bridge easier to see.

“I have no complaints with the lights,” Morace said. “They make my job safer, and when everything is lit up, the bridges even look better.”