Bridge crisis statewide closures could double by 2019 mississippi today static electricity bill nye full episode


In 2016, the Federal Highway Administration forced an extensive round of bridge inspections in Mississippi after concluding the state’s timber bridges had not been properly inspected by county officials. The federal agency then ordered the re-inspection of the bridges over the course of 2018 and 2019.

That federally mandated re-inspection has led to the majority of the closures over the past year. The most recent data from the Office of State Aid Road Construction shows that 526 locally owned bridges are closed around the state, and a vast majority of those are timber bridges that have been closed over the past year.

In the current fiscal year, consultants inspected approximately 1,533 bridges with timber substructures, according to figures provided by Office of State Aid Road Construction. The consultants recommended closing 409 of those bridges, or 29 percent of those already inspected.

But the consultants still have to inspect more than half of the state’s entire inventory of locally-owned timber structures. Between October 2018 and February 2019, the consultants will inspect another approximately 1,650 timber bridges under the federal mandate.

“ By this time next year, that closed number could very well have doubled or more,” Derrick Surrette, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, told Mississippi Today in an interview earlier this month. “It’s not getting any better.”

At the end of the 2018 legislative session – before most of the current bridge closings –House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves publicly sparred over how much state money the Legislature should share with local governments for the bridges that the local governments own.

“There is a real concern among senators whose areas spent state and local tax dollars efficiently repairing bridges and did not wind up on the closure list,” said Laura Hipp, spokeswoman for Reeves, signaling Reeves’ apprehension to share state money.

Since the session ended, Gunn has called for a tax swap that involves phasing out the 4 percent income tax bracket over four years, which generates about $160 million in revenue, and increasing the fuel tax 2 cents each year for four years. At the end of the phase in period, the current gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon would increase 8 cents.

“Right now, we’re talking about what we can do – selling some bonds or raising taxes or whatever,” said Amos. “To be honest with you, we’re going to have to wait and hope the Legislature or the feds can come up with some money. Otherwise, we can’t keep up.”

“The county engineer has put his stamp of approval that the bridge could stay open, and you’ve got another engineer that says close it,” Surrette said. “They’ve got the same type of degree and background and professional experience. I don’t know who’s right and wrong. But I know one thing: You’ve got engineers saying different things.”

Officials in Smith and Jasper counties took the matter into their own hands, filing a lawsuit against Gov. Bryant in early May, claiming the governor’s proclamation exceeds the powers he is granted under the emergency management law. The state departments of Transportation and Public Safety and Mississippi Emergency Management Agency are also named as defendants.

In response, the governor cast blame on the county supervisors for not properly maintaining the bridges in the first place and said he is just following the recommendations of the independent inspection consultants who are helping the state comply with the federal mandate.