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franklin county times

Newton County eyes bridge repair

By Staff
BRIDGE PROBLEMS Jimmy Kemp, Newton County's consulting engineer, shows structural deficiencies underneath the bridge on the Decatur-Conehatta Road. Plans call for replacing the bridge with state and federal funds. Photo by William F. West / The Meridian Star
By William F. West / community editor
Nov. 23, 2002
DECATUR The diesel engine of Jimmy Kemp's pickup truck chugged furiously as he drove the back roads of Newton County, heading out to show a bridge that needs to be replaced.
After several minutes of winding through a lush, picturesque countryside of poultry farms, ranches and forests, the Decatur-Conehatta Bridge appeared.
Kemp pulled over, stepped under the bridge and pointed to aging wooden support posts and beams. The bridge's wooden support walls are buckling and the adjoining roadbed is eroding.
Signs posted at the bridge say the load limit is 8,000 pounds, limiting traffic to cars and trucks. However, while Kemp examined the bridge, a large propane delivery truck crossed the span.
Kemp, 62, a former mayor of Meridian, is now serving as a consulting engineer to Newton County helping officials monitor the status and condition of all county bridges.
Interest in the safety of county bridges has increased ever since the Nov. 2 collapse of the old U.S. 84 bridge over the Chickasawhay River in Wayne County. That accident left at least two dead.
Worst bridge
Replacing the Decatur-Conehatta Bridge, which crosses the Conehatta Creek, is a top priority for Newton County. Kemp said the bridge was one of many constructed in the 1950s with wooden pilings.
The bridge needs to be replaced because the road is heavily traveled from Decatur, the county seat, to Conehatta, a Choctaw reservation.
The bridge is part of the Mississippi Department of Transportation State Aid network of farm-to-market routes. The State Aid division provides state and federal money to maintain local roads.
Kemp said plans call for replacing the bridge with a combination of state funds, which are available, plus federal funds, which are pending.
He said he anticipates the federal funding will come and the county plans to advertise the project early next year. He estimates the cost of the bridge replacement will be about $750,000.
Kemp also showed a concrete bridge under construction on nearby Allgood Road. It is being built to replace a separate wooden structure over Conehatta Creek.
That bridge is being replaced with funding created by a 1994 state program that provides for replacing bridges not on the State Aid system.
State help
Mississippi Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall is calling for more coordination between MDOT's State Aid Division and the state's 82 counties in determining the number of deficient rural bridges.
L.M. "Bubba" Bonds, vice president of the Newton County Board of Supervisors, said the condition of his county's bridges were discussed in detail at the last couple of board meetings.