Gov. Bryant: Bridge inspections may take 30 days

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Gov. Phil Bryant said the Mississippi Department of Transportation may be inspecting more than 100 unsafe local bridges for the next 30 days.

The transportation department this week said it would begin addressing the bridges on Thursday, starting with notifying counties and giving them the opportunity to close the bridges.

Gov. Phil Bryant addresses the state’s unemployment rate and school test score progress at the Mississippi Economic Council’s Annual Meeting Thursday at the Jackson Convention Complex.

Speaking with reporters after giving remarks at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Economic Council, Bryant said many of the counties had been notified for weeks if not months before about closing the bridges.

“This is no surprise to any counties,” Bryant said on Thursday. “They know which ones need to be closed. They’re going to have to close them.”

On Tuesday, Bryant announced a state of emergency proclamation ordering the transportation department to close 83 local and county bridges that have been judged deficient by federal National Bridge Inspection Standards and the Mississippi Office of State Aid Road Construction. The proclamation was worded in a way that allows any bridges found to be deficient after it was issued to be included.

In Nov. 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration requested that MDOT review more than 1,542 bridges on the National Bridge Inventory. This review revealed that 378 local bridges should be closed to traffic.

MDOT and the Mississippi Office of State Aid Road Construction in 2017 developed a plan to get the worst of the timber-pile bridges into compliance, which included closing any bridges that were a danger to motorists, MDOT Executive Director Melinda McGrath said Wednesday in a statement.

Last month, highway administration notified Bryant that many of the most dangerous bridges had not been closed. The federal administration warned that Mississippi would be in danger of losing access to federal funds if the dangerous bridges were not closed immediately.

MDOT was ordered to close 102 unsafe, local bridges as of Wednesday.

“There are thousands and thousands of bridges throughout rural Mississippi, particularly wood structures that take some time to inspect,” Bryant said regarding the 30-day timeline. “We will follow that to make sure each and every one of them are inspected and closed if we find that they’re dangerous.”