Westbound Mississippi River bridge to be closed for extended repair project

Published 12:04 am Thursday, May 11, 2017

VIDALIA — The westbound Mississippi River bridge is expected to be partially or completely closed for a little under two years for major structural repairs, Natchez leaders said Wednesday.

Mississippi Department of Transportation Public Information Officer Michael Flood said the contract for work on the old bridge has been awarded, but it is early in the process.

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“We will not know about the scheduling, dates, late penalties, etc. until we meet with the contractor in a few weeks,” Flood said.

Blastech Enterprises, Inc., has been awarded the pin and link replacement work, Flood said. The cost of the project is anticipated to be $26,774,759.50.

Flood said traffic flow during the closure would be routed head-to-head on the eastbound bridge.

“We expect some lane closures during preliminary work, but until the scheduling gets decided, there really isn’t much else I can report,” Flood said

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said Mississippi Department of Transportation and Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development officials informed the city leadership that the project is scheduled to be complete in April 2019.

Grennell said Wednesday that initially one lane of the old bridge would be open, but eventually the whole bridge would be closed.

“It is going to involve a complete shutdown of the old bridge and it will not be open until April 2019,” he said.

Vidalia Alderman Robert Gardner brought the issue up Tuesday at the board’s regularly scheduled meeting because he said he had concerns the annual Memorial Day parade would be impacted if the old bridge would be closed on Memorial Day.

The route of the parade is from Magnolia Street in Vidalia to the Natchez National Cemetery.

Vidalia Town Manager Bill Murray said Wednesday the parade would not be impacted by the contractor, as the work is not scheduled to begin until June. However, Murray said he did not know if MDOT would allow the parade to march across the bridge due to liability concerns.

“The parade means a lot to the history of Vidalia,” Murray said. “We want to have the parade happen. Some of the first memories of many residents are of watching that parade.”

Grennell said he spoke with an MDOT official on Wednesday and the parade officials would have to get permission from the contractor, who would be responsible for both bridges during construction.

Grennell said MDOT would never give permission to use the bridges for parades due to liability.

Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft said MDOT and LDOTD officials met with town leadership on Monday and said in two weeks they will meet with contractors.

Craft said the repairs could shut the bridge down completely for a maximum of 365 days. Repairs include replacing the pins that hold the bridge together and also painting the bridge, he said.

Murray said if the bridge’s closure does not impact the parade this year, it could still impact the parade next year.

Craft said the town could not legally close the bridge for a parade.

Adams County Board of Supervisors President Mike Lazarus said Wednesday MDOT officials had not notified county leaders on the bridge work.

“That’s going to be bad news,” Lazarus said. “It will be a big burden.”

Similar work was performed on the bridge in 2015, where crews removed and replaced steel pins approximately 10 inches in diameter and 20 inches long that allow the bridge to be flexible. The pins, which were original to the 1940 bridge, were replaced because of wear and tear. The westbound bridge was closed for seven weeks starting in August 2015. It reopened in October that year.