State releases report on county’s bridges

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

NATCHEZ &045; Bridges in Adams County have improved, at least by the numbers, since The Natchez Democrat took its last look at the county’s bridge replacement efforts in 2001.

At that time, four bridges were rated by the state as needing to be closed.

But according to the Office of State Aid, only two bridges in Adams County &045; on Stanley Davis Road and Moss Grove Road &045; were rated &uot;closed&uot; by the state during its most recent bridge inspection, conducted just a few weeks ago.

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Two major bridge replacements, Liberty Road at Johns Manville and Palestine Road, have been completed in the last four years at a cost of $1.8 million.

Only minor maintenance is left to complete a bridge replacement on Kingston Road, while another project, replacement of the Anna’s Bottom Road bridge over Fairchild Creek, is now under contract.

In addition, the number of bridges State Aid engineers have deemed as structurally deficient or needing critical maintenance has fallen in recent years, according to County Engineer Jim Marlow.

Marlow attributes that to better maintenance by county road crews, which can do much of the maintenance before handing the projects off to crews that had handle pilings and other complex repairs.

Still, in the late January inspection more than half about 72 bridges &045; some of which are built of timber and up to 70 years old &045; were rated by the state as needing critical maintenance or having deficient structural components. Similar figures weren’t available for 2001 as of press time.

In 2001, York Road resident Margie Elan aired her concerns about erosion and maintenance needs at a nearby bridge to county supervisors. Last week, she said it still needs help.

Meanwhile Brenda Freeman, who has lived at the corner of Tate Road and Forest Home Road for 35 years, said the county bought land for bridge improvement projects on Tate Road two years ago.

&uot;And we haven’t heard anything about it since,&uot; Freeman said.

While more bridge replacement projects are in the works, Marlow said tight federal and state budgets and slow turnaround in State Aid approval of projects make adding new projects a challenge.

Counties receive federal bridge replacement funds from the Federal Highway Administration and state aid money.

The latter funds can only be used for bridges and roads that are part of Mississippi’s state aid system and, to be added to that system, a road or bridge must meet specific design standards.

Both the federal bridge replacement and state aid funds are administered through the state Office of State Aid.

The county also receives money allocated through the state’s Local System Bridge Program for bridges that are not part of the state aid system.

Although more recent figures weren’t available as of press time, in 2001 the county received about $40,000 a month in state aid funds. Those come from gasoline and other state taxes and are used to provide a 20 percent match for the federal bridge replacement funds.

At that time, Adams County also go $100,000 to $200,000 a year in LSBP funds. Those don’t go far, considering the price tag for some of the county’s most major bridge replacements in recent years have topped the $1 million mark.

And LSBP funds must first be spent to replace bridges with a sufficiency rating of 50 or less.

Each year, Marlow and a state aid area engineer travel to each bridge to rate it from 0 to 100 based on factors such as age, dimensions and traffic count.

However, a bridge that has been structurally damaged may have a rating above 50 and, therefore, would not qualify for replacement with LSBP funds. By the same token, a bridge can have a low sufficiency rating and can still be structurally sound.

And once a bridge is rated, it still takes a minimum of one year &045; and often more &045; just to get a project under contract.

Once Marlow gets authorization from county supervisors, he must draw up a &uot;program&uot; form containing information on the bridge and why it should be replaced Supervisors must approve that document before Marlow submits it to State Aid for approval, which can also take months.

If federal funds are involved, the Federal Highway Administration must also give environmental clearance for the project.

Next, the county must go about securing rights-of-way from the owners of property adjacent to the bridge. Many heirs might have a claim to property needed for rights-of-way, &uot;and it’s hard to get in touch with them, because a lot of them live elsewhere,&uot; Marlow said.

For example, the county is currently attempting to locate heirs to get the necessary right-of-way for a Tate Road bridge replacement project. As of last week, the county had gotten about 60 rights-of-way, with 40 heirs left to go.

Only when all necessary funding, approvals and rights-of-way are secured can the Board of Supervisors advertise for bids for construction. It usually takes at least two months to advertise for bids, review bids and get a project under contract.

Yet Marlow said the county is still working to replace its older, more worn bridges as soon as possible.

The next projects Marlow wants to tackle include a Kingston area bridge that runs over Sandy Creek, as well as the Hutchins Landing Road bridge and the Tate Road project, which would include four bridges and road improvements.

Timelines aren’t yet available for those projects, which must still be approved by State Aid.

But perhaps few people will be happier when such projects get done than about three Tate Road families who live between two of the four bridges in question.

They must drive their children to a nearby church to be picked up for school, said Ron Idom, manager of the Natchez office of school bus company Durham School Services.

&uot;That’s because the school bus can’t drive over that bridge,&uot; Idom said.

But Marlow pointed out that Adams County is making improvements to bridges as quickly as possible and is making progress. He pointed to the Palestine Road bridge replacement as an example. &uot;It’s improved the quality of life for people out there,&uot; he said.