Canal widening project has given water traffic more wiggle room

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 18, 2009

Just over a year after the Army Corps of Engineers wrapped up a widening project for the Yazoo Diversion Canal and with the Mississippi settling back inside its banks, tows are having an easier time navigating the channel that links the river with the Port of Vicksburg.

For decades, navigation proved difficult for towboats to push more than two barges on the previously 3 mile-long, 150-foot wide canal. Now, blocks of four-barge tows are able to navigate the shipping lane — now 200 to 250 feet wide at points between its junction with the Mississippi and Vicksburg Harbor.

“It’s been much easier to make the turns,” said Albert Smith, fleet manager for Ergon Marine. “Things are going fairly smooth.”

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Particularly less troublesome are areas near City Front, where waterborne traffic had to be wary of potential obstructions such as the boat landing and Horizon Casino.

“They don’t have to do a wiggle when they go through there,” said Roger Harris, Magnolia Marine Transport vice president of operations.

Excavated in 1903 when the Mississippi River changed course and bypassed City Front, the too-narrow canal had become a bottleneck for shippers. Efforts to dredge the edges of the canal began in the early 1990s as more modern tows proved too large for the canal where stages fluctuate by 40 feet annually, according to the Corps.

Funding challenges persisted until the Corps and local officials agreed in 2005 on cost-sharing. The $5.7 million project was supported by about $1.7 million in local funding, including block grants won by the City of Vicksburg and funds supplied by Warren County and the Warren County Port Commission. About 68 acres of land on both sides was cleared using cutter heads and soil cleared for open water disposal by the Corps was pumped to the mouth of the canal and into the river. Some included privately-held acreage was acquired by the county to speed up the project.

Last spring’s flooding on the Mississippi River delayed completion until April 2008.

“It was only deepened in the spots where it was needed,” said Phillip Hollis, a senior Corps project manager. “The principal economic benefits were safety and growth of commerce.”

Traditionally low river stages in August may be the first real test of the newly widened channel’s viability for heavier barge traffic, Harris said.

“But, it’s helping already,” Harris said.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at