Drivers who have had to endure a nearly two-year-long detour between Hernando and points to the south on U.S. Highway 51 Tuesday were greeted with the news that their extra travel was at an end.
Mississippi Department of Transportation officials announced that a new bridge connecting DeSoto and Tate counties at the Coldwater River had been completed and was open for use.
Most of the reaction from residents about the completion of the $22.7 million bridge project involved excitement, a sense of relief and looking forward to making the trek on the new span.
The hardship of the traveling public, who needed to detour around using I-55 since the bridge was closed in March 2016, instead of a direct route on Highway 51, was noted by Northern District Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert.
He was in Southaven Wednesday to speak to the Southaven Chamber of Commerce Quarterly Luncheon at the Landers Center.
“We’re very thankful for the patience of the public,” Tagert said. “The project has been a very difficult one for many reasons, most of which are weather related. It is open and it is a stronger, bigger bridge that is going to service our community for a very long time.”
The old bridge was closed when structural supports were damaged by the flooding in 2016.
The bridge’s construction was originally set to be considered when funding was available at a later date. However, flooding damage to the original span in precipitated the closure and the resulting detour while the new bridge was built.
MDOT said in a news release that approximately 3,200 vehicles used the old bridge on a daily basis before it was closed.
The new bridge is longer than the original one at 2,000 feet in length. It is also four feet taller to provide more resiliency to high water events and the travel lanes have been widened to 14 feet in width.
Installation of rumble strips and lane striping being applied were the final touches on the project this week. Tagert said the work had originally been projected for a January completion date, but added the new bridge had other issues that needed to be addressed when it was built.
“It was a very unique project because of the position and environmental sensitivity in that area,” Tagert said. “It was a very costly project that had to be done. Public safety was at stake and we had to do it. We had to bite the bullet.”
The original bridge was built in 1935.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.