A down payment on lighting the bridges

Published 8:55 pm Sunday, April 10, 2022

In 2016, one of America’s most beautiful vistas went dark.  I am speaking of course about the view from the highest bluff overlooking the Mississippi River right here in Natchez, when the lights were removed from the Natchez- Vidalia bridges during the renovation of the northern bridge.

To re-light the bridges, we need $6 million. I am happy to report that this week, our first down payment, $500,000, was appropriated by the Mississippi Legislature. Thanks to our State Delegation, and leaders like Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann, Speaker Philip Gunn, and Governor Tate Reeves, we are now on our way to making this goal a reality. We are also grateful to the leadership in both houses of the Mississippi Legislature, and the ongoing help from our dear friend Louisiana Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser.

Of course, we still have much to raise. Working with Lt. Governor Nungesser and Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft, we are continuing our efforts to seek funding from the State of Louisiana. We are also seeking an earmark from the Federal Government, and we have good reason to believe more funding from the State of Mississippi will be forthcoming in the future.

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Lighting the bridges at Natchez and Vidalia is more than just restoring a beautiful, aesthetic display.  This project is a major economic driver for our region. Lighting the bridges will illuminate what has become the favorite stop of all cruises along the Mississippi River.  Bridges in Memphis, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans are all beautifully lit.  It is important that the Natchez- Vidalia Bridges not be left in the dark.

American Queen Steamboat Company and American Cruise Lines are already bringing thousands of visitors to our region, and more boats are on the way. Viking will introduce its new Viking Mississippi to the river in June, and ACL is adding another boat in early 2023. This will increase our count to over 3000 tourists and crew members per week! This means more economic development, even an opportunity to have cruises originate and terminate in Natchez once we get commercial air service restored. Imagine the JOBS this will create for the Miss-Lou!

In the aftermath of the Covid- 19 pandemic, many travelers are seeking smaller communities like Natchez and Vidalia as their destination. Having our bridges lit at night will add significantly to our collection of great things to do and see and help keep us competitive in a growing tourism market.  Included in the design is LED color and movement, coordinated with speakers on the riverfronts of Natchez and Vidalia, creating a “Bellagio Light Show” experience every evening after sunset. Just imagine the impact of this added attraction!

There is also a safety element involved with this effort.  The Natchez- Vidalia Bridges are located at one of the most severe turns in the river where, at high water levels especially, currents are very strong.  With the tremendous increase in barge and riverboat traffic we are experiencing, lighting the bridges can be considered a very important safety issue, especially with new docks and ramps being planned for both the Natchez and Vidalia riverfronts.

Our majestic bridges have sat in the dark for far too long.  It’s time to turn the lights back on. Many thanks to all who are helping. The future is bright. Natchez Deserves More!

Dan Gibson is mayor of Natchez.