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State tells counties monitor closed bridges

By By William F. West / community editor
Saturday, Nov. 9, 2002
A state highway official sent letters Friday to Mississippi's 82 counties, telling them that rural bridges must remain off-limits to motorists if they have been recommended for closure.
Brooks Miller, State Aid engineer with the Mississippi Department of Transportation, said the letters are a direct result of the Nov. 2 bridge collapse near Waynesboro that left at least two dead.
Concerns over the conditions of rural bridges have been a focal point since the collapse of the Old U.S. 84 bridge into the Chickasawhay River.
Miller said Wayne County was notified in January of structural problems with the 1910, one-lane bridge. He said the county ordered materials to repair the bridge to keep it open while a new bridge was being built nearby.
But Miller said his office never received papers from Wayne County's engineer confirming the repairs. So, Miller said, state records still show the bridge should have been closed.
Bridge inspection
In Lauderdale County, supervisors voted early this week to seek federal funds to cover expenses for inspecting 51 county bridges that are on a critical list.
A bridge is placed on a critical list if it has a component that could cause the structure to fail such as rust or splintered wood.
Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors President Craig Hitt said he was unaware of a letter from MDOT. But, Hitt said, he doesn't think the county has any serious problems with bridges.
In Clarke County, Board of Supervisors President Paul Mosley said every bridge open there is passable.
And in Newton County, consulting engineer Jimmy Kemp said every bridge the county has listed as closed is marked with road signs.
Miller said of the 10,941 city and county bridges across the state, 3,571, or nearly one-third, need to be replaced.
Old bridges
Mississippi still has bridges that were built in the horse-and-buggy and Model T Ford eras. Many more bridges built after World War II were made of cement but are supported by aging, wooden pilings.
The state offers programs to replace aging bridges.
One is the State Aid program, created in 1949 to replace antiquated farm-to-market bridges with federal and state funding. Another program was created in 1994 to help replace bridges not on the State Aid list.
Kemp said 32 Newton County bridges currently fail to meet sufficient safety standards not including five bridges in Newton and a narrow truss bridge over the Chunky River at Chunky.
But Kemp said Newton County's government has replaced, is replacing or has scheduled to replace several bridges in the county.