Add bridge workers to hero list

Published 12:01 am Friday, August 21, 2015

In a world where politicians and celebrities crave the spotlight, it is hard to figure out who the true heroes are.

While Donald Trump and the Kardashians jockey for the top trending positions on Twitter and Facebook, other people face much bigger challenges, working selflessly to keep our daily life running smoothly.

These everyday heroes and the jobs they perform are often taken for granted.

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When small children are asked who they consider heroes, soldiers, firemen and policemen are frequently named.

After reading what is happening on the Mississippi River Bridge this week, I would put construction workers at the top of the list.

Seventy-five years after the first Mississippi River bridge linking Natchez and Vidalia opened, the twin bridges are one of the area’s most recognizable icons. Residents take great pride in the steel and concrete structures.

Even still, I bet few people know how critical eight metal rods are to their daily lives.

These steel cylinders, 10 inches in diameter and approximately 20 inches long — about the size of a small log— are the sole focus of construction crews working high above the river.

Like surgeons that perform medical miracles, construction workers are working around the clock for 72 hours to surgically remove pins and other steel members and replace them with new material. Unlike surgeons who work in sterile operating rooms with tiny tools, crews are working 100 feet above the Mississippi River with tons of steel. Each pin that is being replaced weighs more than 400 pounds alone.

The work is risky. The pins and links connect the trusses while allowing for movement in the structure.

In 1940, the first Mississippi River Bridge must have been an engineering marvel. Using the latest in bridge technology, the structure cost more than $3.5 million dollars to construct.

Old photographs in the Vidalia City Hall show the construction of the bridge as it crossed the river, piece by piece. Even in 2015, the images are jaw-dropping, especially when you consider how far construction technology has progressed in the past 75 years.

These days, workers have the luxury of using telescopic lifts instead of rickety scaffolding. Even still, the job is complicated.

Temporary restraints and diagonal steel are being installed to allow the pins to be removed without the structure failing. Such work requires careful engineering and precise construction to be successful. The work that is necessary to keep the bridge safe.

According to a 2014 presentation to the Southern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, inspections in 1995 by the Mississippi Department of Transportation found one of the parts meant to hold one of the pins had sheared off and that the pin had moved.

Further deterioration was discovered during an in-depth inspection by a civil engineering consultant in 2010.

Without rehabilitation, it is conceivable that the deterioration would continue, risking the overall safety of the bridge.

Without maintenance, even steel and concrete bridges don’t last forever. It is good to know that construction workers are braving the heat, the heights and the hazards to make sure the bridge lasts for at least another 75 years.


Ben Hillyer is the news editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by email at