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Bridge of Sighs project receives approval

NATCHEZ — With a conceptual design that scored a “hallelujah” from one commissioner, the Bridge of Sighs project received unanimous approval from the Natchez Preservation Commission Wednesday night.

Commissioner Liz Dantone commended the work landscape architect Jared Acy of Watkins Acy Strunk Design completed on the preliminary design of the historic replication of a pedestrian bridge that crossed Roth Hill Road.

“I just want to say hallelujah,” she said. “I think we’ve come a very long way, and I think it shows how the design process can work. I am feeling much more comfortable moving forward (with the project).”

The project has been delayed for past couple of months after the commission asked the City of Natchez for more detailed plans for the bridge.

City Engineer David Gardner has said complete plans are not available since the project involves using a prefabricated bridge, meaning it will be built off-site by a manufacturer and assembled on location.

The commission’s concerns at last month’s preservation meeting included the aesthetics of the transitions from the existing fence on the bluff to the elements of the bridge, disguising handrails and other issues.

Acy presented a design at the meeting Wednesday that seemed to appease those concerns.

An updated design included a raised planting bed on the southern end of the bridge, which Acy said eliminated the need for a guardrail. The design also included brick columns beside the raised bed that commissioners agreed make a more cohesive design.

Commissioner chairwoman Marty Seibert read a letter from Mayor Butch Brown, who was hoping commissioners would approve the project so it could move forward to the bid process.

Brown voiced concerns at the commission’s last meeting about the bridge’s funding being in jeopardy because it had been delayed.

Now that the project’s preliminary design has been approved, Gardner said the city can create bid guidelines that include the approved design. The commission’s input, Gardner said, will also be included in further design details once a builder is selected.

Gardner said he was thankful for the commission’s dedication to getting the best design for the project.

“This project is worth of a lot of critiquing because I mean, obviously, we’ve got to get it right the first time,” he said. “It’s a project that is going to last generations from now, and it’s just critical that we make it perfect.

“I like (the design) a lot more than what we first presented, so I commend you all for making us go through this process.”

The city rejected a first round of bids for the bridge in October after they came in over budget, with the lowest bid at approximately $550,000.

The project went through the bid process the first time without design approval from the preservation commission despite receiving approvals for from the project’s federal and state funding agencies. Gardner has said he mistakenly thought the project had received preservation approval.

The project has received two $100,000 grants, one from the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and the second from the Federal Highway Administration. Both grants are being administered by the Mississippi Department of Transportation.