On a list of 216 closed city and county bridges provided to the Mississippi Legislature on March 6, fewer than half were actually closed to traffic, according to an analysis by Mississippi Watchdog.
The “closed bridge” list was sent to legislators by the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s Office of State Aid Roads, which provides grants for municipalities and counties to repair or replace damaged or obsolete roads and bridges.
Of the 216 bridges on the list, there were:
- 102 bridges closed to traffic for safety reasons.
- 102 bridges that were open and posted with weight limits for traffic due to structural issues.
- 10 bridges that were open, some that the office said needed to be posted but didn’t have the needed signage.
- Two temporary bridges open to traffic.
The list didn’t cover bridges on state-owned highways, which are maintained by MDOT directly. Only city- and county-maintained bridges were included.
Proponents of increasing the state’s gasoline tax are using the list to justify a tax hike, saying that the state’s roads and bridges are falling into disrepair.
The list was given to lawmakers after state Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, claimed on the Senate floor recently that 100 bridges had been closed statewide by inspectors from the Federal Highway Administration. Simmons chairs the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee.
The number of closed bridges was later reduced to 57 after he said some of the bridges closed by the FHA were re-opened. The list of 216 bridges provided by the Office of State Aid Roads includes those closed by counties in addition to those closed by federal inspectors.
A December 2015 study commissioned by the Mississippi Economic Council and conducted by researchers from Mississippi State University and the University of Southern Mississippi said the state needs to spend $375 million more annually, with $300 million for state bridges and highways and $75 million for local needs.
According to numbers Mississippi Watchdog obtained from the Legislature, the total price to repair or replace all of the closed or posted bridges on the list would be $59.6 million. The average lifespan of a bridge in the U.S. is 70 years. Most bridges on the list would cost $250,000 or less to replace.
The Office of State Aid Roads says that the list of closed bridges changes daily, but some discrepancies popped up that need explanation:
- One bridge on the closed list carries Lorraine Road over the Biloxi River. A $7.5 million bridge that received some funding from the Office of State Aid Roads opened on June 24, 2016, according to the Biloxi Sun-Herald. It was the most-used bridge on the list, with 18,000 cars per day crossing it.
- Another bridge listed as closed was the spillway in Percy Quinn State Park near Magnolia. A bridge over the spillway was opened in August 2016, according to the McComb Enterprise-Journal. The dam that created the lake there failed because of flooding from Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
- A bridge in Madison County was listed as closed even thought it received a 99 out of 100 rating on its sufficiency by inspectors and was open without restriction.
- A bridge in Wayne County was listed as closed even though it was open without restriction.
- A small bridge in Washington County was rated a 99 out of 100 and was included on the list, despite being open without restriction.
- The bridges on the list aren’t on well-traveled roads. Only 17 of them have average daily traffic of 500 cars or more, with the rest averaging 50 vehicles per day or less.
The House Ways and Means Committee added an amendment to Senate Bill 2939 that would allocate money from the voluntary use tax deal with Amazon toward roads and bridges. Under the plan, 50 percent would go to MDOT for state highways and bridges, while the other 50 percent would be divided evenly between cities and counties.
The Senate declined to vote on the amended measure and has invited conference on the bill. However, time is running out; the session is scheduled to end April 2.