Bridge, road safety should be priority

Published 12:43 am Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A few weeks ago, one lane of the old Natchez-Vidalia Mississippi River bridge reopened to traffic after being closed for a year while undergoing necessary repair work to remove rust, repaint the bridge and replace worn structural components.

The reopening is certainly welcome news and everyone traveling across the bridge is safer for having the work completed.

During the work, the bridge that first opened in 1940 was closed to traffic, and the newer bridge that opened in 1988, carried traffic both ways across the river linking Natchez and Vidalia.

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A few weeks ago, Mississippi Today editor R.S. Nave reached out to The Natchez Democrat, proposing the two news organizations work on a project together, preferably something The Democrat could use their organization’s resources to help us with.

When he first reached out, I was short of ideas the non-profit news organization based in Ridgeland and focusing mostly on state legislative news could help us with. Then one night as I was drifting off to sleep, it hit me. Work on the Natchez-Vidalia bridge was nearing completion. We could use Mississippi Today’s help to do a story nailing down the reopening date and detailing the work.

I pitched the idea to Nave, and he liked it.

It wasn’t two days later, however, we learned the bridge would reopen one westbound lane on Saturday morning July 28.

We rushed an item onto The Natchez Democrat website to let folks know, and I sent Nave an email to let him know a lane of the bridge had reopened.

We both agreed the bridge was still a good story, particularly since the repair work on the bridge is a success story for the state and is a credit to local leaders for getting the project funded and completed on schedule in the midst of an infrastructure crisis the state is experiencing.

Throughout the state more than 100 roads and bridges have been closed because the Federal Highway Administration deemed them unsafe for travel and forced the state to close them.

Now the state is grappling with how to deal with the infrastructure crisis and the governor is weighing whether to call a special session to come up with a source of funding to repair the roads and bridges.

Mississippi Today hosted a panel discussion on the topic Saturday at the Natchez Brewing Company with Nave, Visit Natchez Executive Director Jennifer Ogden-Combs and me, in which we discussed possibilities for funding the state’s infrastructure repairs and asked people their thoughts on the topic.

A state lottery, a gas tax or a portion of internet sales taxes are all being discussed as possibilities for funding infrastructure repairs and judging by the crowd’s reactions Saturday, none of the options are very popular.

No one wants to pay extra taxes.

When it comes to safety on the state’s highways and bridges, however, state leaders are going to have to knuckle down and make some tough decisions.

And, we will all be better off for it if they do.

Thankfully, the Natchez-Vidalia bridge is no longer a problem.

Scott Hawkins is editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at 601-445-3540 or