MDOT: Replacing Local Bridges Critical in Miss.

Fri October 02, 2009 - Southeast Edition
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PASCAGOULA, Miss. (AP) Replacing local bridges is the most critical transportation need in Mississippi, said Larry “Butch’’ Brown, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

Not only are they aging, but they are more stressed, he said.

“The trucks are so much bigger now days than they were in the past and they are riding on those roads that were not built for that capacity,’’ he said.

Mississippi has 10,923 local bridges — not part of the interstate or state highway systems, said John Harper, an assistant administrator in the Office of State Aid Road Construction.

He said nearly one in four is rated 50 or lower on a 100-point scale, indicating they need repair, replacement or a reduced load limit. Given average replacement cost of $250,000, replacing them all would cost nearly $666 million, Harper said.

Twelve of the 180 local bridges in Jackson County score 50 or lower, according to the state aid system’s Web site. The county plans to spend $2 million to replace or repair a dozen bridges in the next year, said Manly Barton, president of the Board of Supervisors.

But rural counties lack the tax base for extensive bridge replacements and repairs, said Bob Diamond, an engineer with Batson & Brown and a county state aid engineer for Jackson, George and Greene counties.

Ten of George County’s 71 local bridges have ratings of 50 or below. George County can usually manage to replace one bridge a year, Diamond said.

Three programs are keeping the weak links in the state’s transportation system from collapsing.

The state aid program — part of the governor’s office rather than MDOT — has $51 million for the next year, said Fred Hollis of the state aid office. Another $20 million is available from the Local System Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program. The federal government will chip in $15 million for bridges, but that isn’t earmarked solely for local bridges, he said.

Local bridges in the 82 counties carry a “really big impact,’’ said Diamond. “Those are the bridges that impact school buses, local traffic and overall safety for the public.’’

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