STILL IN THE DARK: Miss-Lou mayors hopeful funds will be allocated to relight bridges

Published 6:08 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2023

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NATCHEZ — Miss-Lou mayors said they are still short of funds to illuminate the two bridges connecting Natchez and Vidalia, but they are hopeful they will at least get a fraction of what it will cost.

Last year, the City of Natchez announced a proposal to state and federal leadership to light the bridges with colorful lights that would pulse to music — but plans have since changed.

While this would’ve been entertaining to the thousands of tourists and residents taking the view from the Vidalia Riverfront or Natchez Bluff, local and state leaders simply couldn’t justify the price tag. The colored-animated lights would have cost just under $6 million.

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Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson said pressing issues have taken priority.

“We are focused on many other issues,” Gibson said, “improvements to our airport and addressing drainage concerns in Natchez both of which will require federal funds.”

In April 2022, the Mississippi legislature appropriated $500,000 to help with lighting the Natchez-Vidalia bridges. However, Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann has said he is counting on Louisiana to at least match that.

“To light the bridge even the way it was with the white light is still a project that would cost several million,” Gibson said. “Given the limited funds we have available, we’re now thinking outside the box and looking at new and very creative strategies for lighting the bridges within a $1 million budget. Obviously, it won’t be the same as it was in the past because we have to work within the budget we are given, but we are by no means giving up.”

The bridges have been dark since before 2018 when the Mississippi Department of Transportation removed the lights to work on the bridges. At the time, MDOT officials said they found the lights they removed were damaged and would be too costly to repair.

When the lighting was first installed beginning in 2009, the agreement between MDOT and the State of Louisiana was that Mississippi would care for the maintenance and upkeep of the lighting system through MDOT and Louisiana would pay for the electricity through the Town of Vidalia’s ownership in the Louisiana Hydroelectric Station.

With new ships cruising on the Mississippi River and calling Natchez and Vidalia a port of call, Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft said he is hopeful Louisiana’s leaders will help light their way.

“I’m meeting with our Governor (John Bel Edwards) Wednesday and I have already met with Billy Nungesser, our Lt. Governor,” Craft said while announcing the upcoming christening of the American Serenade in April.

“He is going run for Lt. Governor again, which is good news because he is very favorable for helping us get Louisiana to come up our portion (to fund) the bridge lights,” he said. “That’s going to be huge. Every win is a win for all of us.”