Frustration, fears accelerate with no solution in sight for bridge crisis mississippi today 10 gases

#####

“Everybody’s got flat tires and busted motors from driving the fields. I’ve had to replace all four tires,” said Cathy Zeigler, who lives two houses down from Gower. “If you don’t have a truck, you’re getting stuck. The only other option is to drive 40 minutes around creation just to get to town.”

Thousands of Mississippians are affected by the closure of 500 locally owned and maintained bridges. Some, like Gower and his neighbors, have begrudgingly minimized the inconveniences, but for everyone the frustration and anxiety are mounting.

That frustration stems from years of delaying maintenance, lawmakers’ inability to pass a comprehensive infrastructure funding package and unresolved political turf wars. All of this came to a head on April 10 when Gov. Phil Bryant ordered the state transportation department to close nearly 100 bridges around the state.

The declaration was made in the wake of federal government inspection mandates that were developed in 2017 after the Federal Highway Administration determined that hundreds of the state’s timber-pile bridges were unsafe for travel and had been improperly inspected for years.

Residents have little faith in state leaders to remedy the problem, as shown in a recent poll by NBC News and Survey Monkey in collaboration with Mississippi Today which found just 36 percent of those responding believe the state is doing a good job maintaining roads and bridges.

In every corner of the state, the transportation department’s emergency closures have incensed county officials who say the state failed to reach out to local governments before ordering the bridges closed, prompting a chorus of concern about public safety.

“When you’ve got this many bridges closed it is an emergency. You don’t have to worry about the convenience factor, you have to worry about EMTs and fire (trucks),” said Mike Morgan, president of the Hinds County Board Supervisors. “Some people are almost completely landlocked and you think about an ambulance or fire truck, that’s very concerning.”

Local officials say they know little about what prompted closures, and the peculiar arrangement of the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Office of State Aid Road Construction — separate agencies that each play a part of infrastructure upkeep — makes it difficult to follow state and federal transportation funds as they flow to these agencies and ultimately trickle down to local governments.

The current crisis exposes the fact that the problem is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon without a big cash injection. Although the Legislature provides counties with $51 million per year for the repair and maintenance of some rural bridges, the funds are inadequate to address the problem, several county officials told Mississippi Today.

“County budgets are set and there’s only so much money available for roads and bridges. They may be able to shuffle some money around or have enough in their road fund to do those repairs for the $15,000 or $25,000 repair projects. But many of these are your $250,000 or $500,000 projects. Even if you have five or 20 bridges closed and they average $50,000 or more, then that also becomes unmanageable,” said Surrette.

“That’s how we feel,” said Duncan, who has held the job for the past 10 years. “It’s a frustrating situation. I mean counties — I’ve talked to several of them — and they’re just frustrated with these folks coming. Close, close, close, close, close, that’s all they know.”