MDOT, county officials still on different pages over bridge closures

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The Mississippi Department of Transportation announced last week a list of 60 bridges that require immediate closure to adhere to federal safety guidelines. The assessment is a continuation of Gov. Phil Bryant’s emergency proclamation in April 2018.

The list includes bridges that are currently open but that inspections, conducted by federal inspectors along with the Office of State Aid Road Construction, showed critical deterioration.

Mississippi Department of Transportation ordered 60 bridge closures last week in continuation of the governor’s emergency proclamation in April 2018.

“Based on their inspection, based on how deteriorated they are, it’s not a question of if these bridges are going to fail, it’s a question of when,” said Jason Scott, MDOT’s Public Information Officer.

“The next step is the state stepping in, because the counties aren’t doing it, and those bridges will remain closed until they’re repaired and back up to federal standards.”

Scott said that counties have 24 hours to close the bridges after an inspection’s findings, but that some of the bridges in last week’s list required closure as far back as September. He added that when the counties do not comply, they risk the state’s federal transportation funding.

Bryant’s proclamation last April gave MDOT the authority to close the bridges until they meet the Federal Highway Administration’s standards. Smith and Jasper counties sued Bryant to keep their bridges open, but a chancery court judge ruled against them.

The list of 60 bridges State Aid sent MDOT indicates that some counties are still on different pages over which bridges to close.

In Hinds County, for example, Public Works Director Charles Sims explained that the county fixed and opened some of its deteriorated bridges after State Aid’s inspection. However, because they haven’t received a new inspection, some of those bridges appeared on last week’s list.

“Some we have to repair, some we do not because we’ve already fixed them,” Sims said. “[The inspectors] are slow about coming back and doing the re-inspection. They will close bridges after we fix them just because they haven’t been reinspected.”

Harry Lee James, the state aid engineer, said that re-inspections can take anywhere between a week to a month. He said re-inspections have to be done by the same firm that did the original assessment, and that inspectors are responsible for at least 10 to 12 counties.

“It’s just a process they have to go through,” James said. “We’re talking about hundreds of bridges [inspectors] are looking at, so they have to work the [re-inspections] into their normal schedule of inspections. This is additional work for [the firms] so we have to renegotiate a price for the re-inspection.”

“It’s all done with the public safety in mind. It’s unfortunate that counties were unable to close [the bridges] for whatever reason.”

According to State Aid’s website as of April 1, Mississippi has 514 county and locally-owned closed bridges. But, as Sims said, the time in between inspections leads to bridges that are open being included in State Aid’s total number.

Of the bridges on the list, Jones and Hinds counties had the most with 15 and 13, respectively.

Click here to see the full list of bridges MDOT says require immediate closure (MDOT said the bridge in Webster County should not be counted).

Editor’s noteA previous version of the story referred to “MDOT’s list”; that list of bridges originally came from the Office of State Aid Road Construction and was then sent to MDOT.