Police: Don’t stop on bridge

Published 12:28 am Tuesday, May 17, 2011

VIDALIA — The Vidalia Police Department has been cracking down on traffic violations on the Mississippi River Bridge, but they aren’t catching any speeders.

Instead, officers are doing their best to get traffic flowing faster to help avoid accidents caused by people trying to sneak a peak of the current flooding at the Vidalia Riverfront.

Cars going over the bridge have been seen driving slow, and in some cases coming to a complete stop on the bridge to view the water’s surge up the riverfront.

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According to reports from the VPD, there have been three accidents on the bridge since the riverfront began flooding, and numerous citations have been issued to travelers who choose to slow down bridge traffic.

“We have worked three wrecks in two days because people are either slowing down or stopping all together in their vehicles to video or take pictures of the Mississippi River.” VPD Chief Arthur Lewis said. “This not only puts the vehicle that stops at risk but all other vehicles traveling your direction in danger of having a collision.”

Lewis said the bridge’s speed limit of 35 mph will be strictly enforced, and VPD officers will be patrolling the bridge to issue citations to anyone who impedes the flow of traffic.

Mississippi Department of Transportation District Engineer Albert White said that MDOT has even put signs out to discourage people from slowing down and walking on the bridge to view the river.

“We are just trying to let people know that can be very dangerous, and they need to avoid it,” he said.

Vidalia resident Heather Lowe said she understands enforcing the speed limit on the bridge for safety reasons, but she just wants a chance to view the historical river rise.

“I just want to see what is going on down there,” she said. “This is history that I am a part of, and there is no where for me to watch it unfold.”

With all the levees in the parish off limits to foot and vehicle traffic, and the riverfront closed off to the public, parish residents have no place to view the current water situation.

“I mean people are curious,” Lowe said. “This is something that could have a major effect on everyone here, so people are going to try and look at the riverfront any way they can.”

Vidalia resident Terry Woodson said he hasn’t let curiosity get the best of him, and that he just wants a sense of normalcy.

“Everywhere I go someone is talking about the river, and now I can’t even drive without being affected by it,” he said. “It shouldn’t take me five minutes to get across the bridge, and I shouldn’t have to dodge stopped cars either.”

Woodson said he has started leaving for work 20 minutes earlier each morning just to avoid the morning bridge frenzy.

“I just can’t wait until things get back to normal,” he said. “Everyone is in flood mode, and it is stressing me out.”

Despite traffic woes, MDOT has no plans to close the bridge to traffic .

“Not for this flood,” said Janet Sullivan, assistant to MDOT Commissioner Wayne Brown. “The crest is even lower than it was anticipated, and there is just no reason I see for it shutting down.”

White said the only scenario that would constitute closing the bridge would be a break in the levee in Vidalia.