The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) plans to immediately close 61 bridges that Executive Director Melinda McGrath says should have been shut seven months ago. The list of potentially dangerous bridges almost doubled from the original 34 after the Office of State Aid Road Construction (OSARC) inspected an additional 27 deficient bridges in late March. The news comes after the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) ordered broader inspections focusing on country and local bridges supported by timber billings. Plans to replace the decaying pilings are underway in some cases, however, McGrath said the problem would not end until all timber bridge structures are placed.
The origin of the crisis can be traced to September 2018, when Mississippi county supervisors refused to close bridges OSARC deemed to be below federal standards, according to McGrath. The agency reported the hazardous bridges to the FHWA, after which the U.S. Department of Transportation threatened to cut MDOT’s annual budget by $530 million. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) directed immediate bridge closures to address the situation. McGrath said MDOT does not track local and country bridges and the state agency was unaware these bridges were marked for closure until the last week of March.
As of March 29, only some of the 61 bridges have been closed, and it is possible that more bridges will be added to the list. McGrath noted that the Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act of 2018 (MIMA) authorized the issuance of up to $250 million in bonds to fund bridge repairs, however, much more revenue is needed. Earlier this year the Mississippi Transportation Commission allocated emergency MIMA funds for replacing and repairing 200 bridges across the state, 99 of which are currently closed.
Gov. Bryant is planning to call a special legislative session to consider a long-term payment plan for improvements to state roads and bridges. However, Bryant refuses to call the session unless legislators can agree on how to fund the repairs, which remains a point of contention among Republican lawmakers.
See the ARTBA Bridge Report, for more information on bridges conditions in Mississippi or across the nation. This report compiles and analyzes data from the Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inventory, released March 15, 2019.
See more about Mississippi’s bridge closures here.