Grant awarded for bridge

Published 12:03 am Saturday, August 20, 2011

NATCHEZ — City officials nearly shrieked with joy over news of funding for the Bridge of Sighs.

Under the National Scenic Byways Program, the Federal Highway Administration awarded the City of Natchez a $100,000 grant to go toward rebuilding the Roth Hill Bridge of Sighs, City Engineer David Gardner said.

It was like the “icing on the cake” to the Natchez Trails Project, he said, as it would make the overall trails experience better by linking the north and south sides of the bluff for pedestrians.

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“It puts a ‘wow factor’ on the trails,” Gardner said.

An old Bridge of Sighs, which is based off of a bridge in Italy, stood from the 1850s-1900s, Trails Committee member Kathleen Jenkins said, and its remnants can still be seen on either side of the hilll. However, that bridge was made of wood, and the new one the city plans to build will be made of steel, Gardner said.

The committee started thinking of the idea of building a bridge in March when they were coming up with the designs for the plaques for the trails, Gardner said, but at the time, the funds just weren’t there.

But through research, Tourism Director Connie Taunton, who is also a Trails Committee member, found grants that coordinated with the bridge’s purpose, Gardner said.

Mayor Jake Middleton said the city is still waiting on a second grant from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks before the bridge can truly come to fruition in the way it’s planned, but for now, they’re excited to have been awarded the FHA grant.

“It just goes to show that there are opportunities out there to succeed if you just make the effort,” he said.

Gardner said the total cost of the bridge would be $155,500, and it would span 110 feet. If the second grant were secured, he said, he would have enough money to really “dress it up” by adding things he hadn’t initially accounted for in the budget, like lights, for example. If the grant is not received, he said, the city will still move forward with the construction, but the bridge wouldn’t be quite what he’s imagining.

Depending on whether the second grant is awarded, Gardner said, construction could begin as soon as March.

Jenkins said rebuilding the bridge is like rebuilding a piece of time.

“It’s exciting in terms of recapturing a historical piece of Natchez, and it adds a quality of excitement for people who walk the trails, because the view will be unprecedented,” she said.