When thinking about infrastructure, it is important to look at what is happening at the county level. Mississippi Today went to five locations around the state to look at the consequences of the Legislature not voting this spring to increase spending on state infrastructure. We hope this insight will stir conversation about the funding of infrastructure in our state.
Sitting in his office in Aberdeen, Monroe County road manager Sonny Clay explained that depending on which side of the Tombigbee River you build on, a square-foot of road asphalt can remain in good condition for a decade or twice that.
“On the east side of the (Tombigbee) the ground has more sand,” Clay said. “You build a road on that and maintenance work is a lot easier. But you build that same road on the other side, and the soil is much more similar to what you’ll find in the Delta. The roads built on that do a lot of settling, causing it to deteriorate at a much faster rate.”
In many ways, the landlocked county is at the mercy of its water features. It is bisected by the Tombigbee River, a 200-mile tributary of the Mobile River, that winds from north to south through the county.
“Every county’s needs are different,” Clay said. “It really just depends on what’s there.” For the county that Clay serves, “what is there” is a lot of water.
Flanked by cites like Tupelo, Starkville and Columbus, commuters living or working in Monroe make regular use of the state’s bridge system. One of those bridges is on Highway 25 over Bull Mountain Creek. The bridge was built in 1951, but hasn’t received a rehabilitation project since.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) has slated the bridge as a high priority in its Five Year Plan. Unfortunately because of myriad flooding events and adjustments to funding, MDOT’s infrastructure priority list changes daily. Until projects are officially awarded to bidders, it is hard to say when a project might be underway.
Luckily for Monroe County, on June 14, MDOT’s commission awarded the project to OCCI Inc., for $2,798,930.
MDOT ranks replacement priority with an index that assesses each project for variables like the bridge’s effect on traffic, how far traffic would be detoured were the bridge closed and whether the level of disrepair will expedite the deterioration of the structure.
The higher the bridge’s replacement index, the higher it will sit on the priority list.
Monroe County’s replacement index sits at a relatively low 56.22. MDOT says some 2,600 vehicles use the bridge daily. Over time, steel girders and piling have decayed. Underneath the bridge on the Monroe County side, sun shines through some of the holes that regular use has left in the bridge.
“We’re not perfect,” Clay said, “but in many ways, our county is blessed.”
That could sound surprising as the three projects that MDOT has slated for Monroe County account for less than .4 percent of the $3 billion estimation in MDOT’s Five Year Plan for road improvements.
Monroe, like other counties, relies on money from the Local System Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program (LSBP) and the Local System Road Program (LSRP). The funds authorized by the Office of State Aid Road Construction give counties the ability to use LSBP/LSRP funds and State Aid funds for building and maintaining bridges and roads respectively.
Supervisor Billy Kirkpatrick of Monroe’s second district said that people in counties like Monroe need the same things everyone else needs.
“While we only have just shy of one thousand miles of road, that is still a lot to maintain. We’re grateful for what the fund has done, but the work is making people feel good about the roads they travel each day. And when you really get down to it, people really want the same two things: good roads and good jobs.”
Covington County, Highway 590 over Currey Creek
For miles east of Seminary, State Highway 590 cuts through miles of forest.
An estimated 1,800, commercial and local vehicles share this highway daily, often speeding through its winding sections.
Just two miles east from the Seminary corporate limits, a two-lane bridge crosses Currey Creek. The bridge was built in 1955 and serves as a major connecting point between Seminary and Ellisville.
Unfortunately, due to severe deterioration of bridge piling including rusting sections, the Mississippi Department of Transportation has resorted to installing extra supports to keep the bridge in service until permanent repairs can be made.
Because of the condition of the bridge, MDOT has assigned it a replacement index of 83.25, which is high.
Since its initial construction, it has not received a major rehabilitation project.
Because of its rough state, the bridge has been slated as a high priority in MDOT’s Five Year Plan.
However, no bid has been awarded to this project despite the high priority it has been given.
Tate County: Highway 51 over Coldwater Creek
Heading south on U.S. Highway 51 from Hernando, a bridge crosses Coldwater Creek that was once used by an estimated 2,800 passengers to travel between DeSoto and Tate Counties.
But as WREG TV in Memphis reported, due to extensive damage from flooding, the Mississippi Department of Transportation was forced to close the bridge on March 11.
Since 1935, when its foundations were laid, it has received no rehabilitation projects.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation is set to begin work on the bridge as part of its Five Year Plan, but in the meantime, one of Coldwater’s main arteries remains shut down.
Coldwater Mayor Vernon Jackson said that even with Interstate 55 nearby, the closed bridge has added a strain to his community.
“We have people who utilize the bridge to get to work and then get back home,” Jackson said. “Now they have to use the bridge on Interstate 55 or find some alternative route other than those.”
Changing the flow of traffic can alter not just the path of drivers but the path of dollars that might otherwise be spent in municipalities like Coldwater.
“For small towns like Coldwater, regular traffic through the town helps its economy,” Jackson said. “It has a great impact on the economic growth.”
With a major way closed, bus routes, fire and police departments, supply lines and commuters must rework their normal paths, adding time to what used to be a quick drive.
“We have a lot of people who live in DeSoto county who cross the bridge to shop in Coldwater,” he said. “(For the bridge) to be closed, it adversely affects the economy of Coldwater.”
On June 7, MDOT’s commission authorized the bid to be awarded to L & A Contracting Company for $22,736,357.34 to replace the bridge.
Issaquena County: Highway 465 over Steel Bayou
As State Highway 465 heads south, following the Mississippi River in southern Issaquena County, it hooks sharply to follow the Yazoo River east by Eagle Lake.
In 1959, a bridge was built on this section of State Highway 465 to allow people to cross Steel Bayou, a tributary of the Yazoo. Today the bridge is used by 790 travelers each day, according to the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
Though the bridge is located in Issaquena County, it is far out of the way for most of that county’s residents. Even the supervisor of District Two of Issaquena County, Louis Hatcher, noted that the bridge is primarily used by residents of Warren County, its neighbor to the south.
“That far down in the county?” Hatcher said. “That’s mostly traveled by people from Eagle Lake in Warren County.”
For those residents of Eagle Lake, the bridge is a lifeline. When it is flooded, travelers have to drive north through Issaquena to get to places to the south like Vicksburg.
In 2012, the section of 465 with the bridge experienced major flooding. According to MDOT, this has caused cracking and abrasion on its deck, corrosion on its steel girders, and the movement of the bridge’s eastern end.
According to Supervisor William Banks of Warren County, this flooding lasted two or three months, but the people that live there year-round are accustomed to challenges caused by flooding.
“A lot of people had to move out and into town (in 2012),” Banks said. “Most of the people that live there, they are prepared for things like that. One family living there for years and years — they ain’t going anywhere.”
That flooding put Highway 465 underwater. When the Mississippi Department of Transportation gets around to fixing the bridge over Steel Bayou, the bridge closing will present the same problems to local residents. When the day to repair the Highway 465 bridge will come is unclear. Although the bridge remains a priority for MDOT, the agency’s list of projects changes frequently so a repair date cannot be reliably planned for.
“465 is the main thoroughfare for that area,” Banks said. “Other than that bridge, they have to follow 465 all the way around for thirty or forty-five minutes. That (bridge) saves them a lot of time.”
On May 10, MDOT’s commission authorized the bid to be awarded to Gibson & Associates, Inc., for $2,316,616.50
Hinds County: Highway 473 over Vaughn Creek
A short back road ride from Interstate 55’s exit near Terry High School, Highway 473 passes over Vaughn Creek. The highway’s bridge was constructed in 1959 and services an estimated 1,400 travelers each day.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation has posted an eight ton weight limit on the bridge due to worries over its decaying structure.
Slumping soil has necessitated the construction of a wooden brace on the southern side of the bridge. An MDOT report shows that engineers have found minor loss on sections of the deck, superstructure and substructure. The supports added by MDOT have helped keep the bridge in service.
On June 14, 2016, MDOT’s commission awarded the contract to Joe McGee Construction Company, Inc. For the completion of the project, the company was given just under $1.9 million.
Supervisor Bobby McGowan declined to comment on the bridge’s effect on his district.