Safety issues prompt immediate weight limit restrictions on Canal Street Bridge

Published 10:20 am Friday, December 22, 2023

NATCHEZ — Effective at 1 p.m. today the Canal Street Bridge will be closed to vehicles weighing more than 5 tons, including tour buses and many emergency vehicles.

The City of Natchez, on the advice of state bridge inspectors, is imposing the 5-ton weight limit on the bridge, located over the Natchez and Southern Railroad. This weight restriction will remain in force until further notice.

“Late in the afternoon on Wednesday, we were informed by the Office of State Aid Road Construction that a recent inspection of the Canal Street bridge had revealed some deterioration of at least 3 of the 9 steel girders that support the bridge,” said Mayor Dan Gibson. “Upon receiving this information, we immediately began discussions with State Aid Engineer Harry Lee James and engineers with Stantec Engineering, the company that performed the inspection, regarding the best and safest way forward. Through a series of very detailed conversations conducted over the past 24 hours, including a thorough review of the bridge inspectors’ findings, it has been determined that the city must immediately impose this weight limit. Normal vehicular traffic can continue using the bridge, but use of the bridge by vehicles heavier than 5 tons will be prohibited for the foreseeable future. Safety of our community is paramount, and we are grateful to the state engineers for bringing this issue to our attention.”

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According to federally posted standards, the average car weighs 1.5 tons and the average passenger truck weighs 3 tons. Some small delivery vehicles also fall below the 5-ton limit, but most emergency vehicles, passenger vans, buses, and larger trucks will have to take a different route.

The city advises that emergency vehicles, buses, passenger shuttles, and smaller delivery vans will be allowed to detour around Canal Street via Homochitto Street at the intersection with John R. Junkin/Highway 84.

“Eighteen-wheelers are not affected by this action,” Gibson said, “as they are already restricted from using Canal Street. The only available truck route for large trucks coming into Natchez remains Devereaux Drive.”

“We are very grateful that the city is being allowed to keep this bridge open for vehicular traffic. Closing the bridge completely would impose a hardship on the thousands of people who use that bridge every day,” Gibson said. “However, we do recognize that this new weight restriction will present an inconvenience for many, especially emergency vehicles and commercial tour buses and passenger shuttles. We have already begun reaching out to all parties affected to coordinate alternative routes.”

The Canal Street Bridge was constructed in 1960. Gibson said the city, during the prior administration, performed needed repairs to the bridge in 2019.

“At that time, utilizing city funds and a $280,000 grant from the state’s Emergency Road and Bridge Repair program (ERBR), the city was able to address various bridge components, including bearings and improvements to the guardrails and decking. We have been told that an inspection by state engineers in January of this year gave the bridge a passing grade, and so this sudden news has definitely taken us by surprise.”

According to the mayor, at issue is rust and pitting affecting some of the steel girders under the bridge.

“State Aid Engineer Harry Lee James, a gentleman with over 50 years of experience in road and bridge engineering issues, has stated that the bridge has reached an age where these conditions are to be expected,” Gibson said. “With his assistance, and the assistance of his engineers, we have already begun the process of making a complete assessment of the bridge to determine the repairs that are necessary and the anticipated cost of those repairs. In addition, we have already identified the funds that may be needed to remedy this situation very quickly. I anticipate that more information and a detailed plan of action will be ready to present to our Board of Aldermen by early January.”

With the new weight restriction in place, Gibson said that other routes into the city will be referenced by digital message boards already put in place by the Mississippi Department of Transportation.