Mississippi officials ordered the shutdown of 102 locally owned bridges last week after federal transportation officials warned that if dangerous bridges were not closed immediately, the state could lose access to federal funds for infrastructure.
The National Bridge Inspection Standards and the Mississippi Office of State Aid Road Construction had earlier judged the bridges deficient. MDOT began enforcing the closures on April 12.
“These bridges have been deemed unsafe for the traveling public,” according to Gov. Phil Bryant in a March 10 press release. “Keeping them open constitutes an unnecessary risk to public safety, violates the corrective action plan agreed upon by the state and federal government and jeopardizes federal infrastructure funds Mississippi receives.”
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has determined that keeping the bridges open constitutes an unacceptable safety risk to the traveling public, prompting Bryant to sign a proclamation declaring a state of emergency and ordering the Mississippi Department of Transportation to immediately close the bridges.
“On April 12, MDOT started moving toward closing bridges on the list provided by the Mississippi Office of State Aid Road Construction that counties have neglected to close,” Jace Ponder, a spokesperson for MDOT, tells Equipment World. “Counties are sending in updated information to State Aid daily.”
Bridges set for are immediate closure include those in Amite, Carroll, Clarke, Greene, Hinds, Humphreys, Itawamba, Jasper, Jones, Lauderdale, Leake, Lincoln, Newton, Pike, Smith and Wayne counties.
The bridges are to remain closed until they are in compliance with federal and state laws, regulations and standards. The proclamation also applies to bridges that are found to be deficient in the future, the governor’s office says.
MDOT started on Thursday, April 12 to close bridges in counties that did not comply with the governor’s directive, Ponder explains. “Many counties closed bridges under their purview. However, some counties did not comply or did not have the resources available to close their bridges,” he says.
MDOT Law Enforcement and DPS will monitor closed bridges to ensure barricades are still in place and the bridge remains closed for the safety of the traveling public.
Ponder says the following actions are now being taken by state agencies:
- MDOT will work through the list of unsafe bridges until all are closed
- MDOT is securing barricades and closure materials needed
- MDOT law enforcement and Department of Public Safety are coordinating over which bridges require law enforcement presence
A Mississippi transportation commissioner speaks out
Commissioner Mike Tagert, Northern Transportation District, explains that at FWHA’s request in November 2016, MDOT had begun reviewing more than 1,542 bridges on the National Bridge Inventory.
“This review revealed that 378 local bridges should be closed to traffic,” Tagert says. “Working with the Mississippi Office of State Aid Road Construction in 2017, MDOT developed a plan to get the worst of the timber-pile bridges into compliance, which included closing any bridges that were a danger to motorists.”
In March 2018, he says, FHWA notified the governor that many of the most unsafe bridges had not been closed and cautioned that the state was in danger of losing access to federal funds.
“Wednesday, the governor issued a directive instructing MDOT to close local bridges identified by FHWA that counties have neglected to close,” Tagert says.
“The list of bridges, provided by State Aid, will change according to information received from each county. MDOT is thankful for the governor’s strong support of public safety while protecting federal transportation funds that come into the state. The state and MDOT cannot afford to lose any money for roads and bridges.”
Tagert says bridge closure verification will be provided to the governor, the Transportation Commission, FHWA and State Aid.
“MDOT will work through the list provided by State Aid until all unsafe bridges have been closed,” the commissioner says.
MDOT personnel are visiting each bridge site to determine exactly what is needed for each closure.
Mississippi began bridge review in late 2016
In November 2016, officials had moved to ensure the state’s bridges were safe enough to remain open for traffic. The FHWA Mississippi Division Office began working with MDOT to review and evaluate the bridges that were identified in the National Bridge Inventory as being in the worst condition,
Then, in March 2017, FHWA worked with MDOT and the Office of State Aid Road Construction to develop and implement an action plan to address NBIS compliance issues concerning the proper inspection and closure of unsafe bridges.
A priority in the plan had required the state to hire independent consultants to perform the NBIS inspections of all local bridges with timber substructure,ays.
During the week of March 19, 2018, the FHWA Mississippi Division had subsequently determined many of the bridges deemed deficient remained open to the public.
A national problem
Mississippi is not alone when it comes to problems with structurally deficient bridges.
In January, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) released an analysis of federal data showing there’s the equivalent of one “structurally deficient”-rated bridge, on average, for every 27 miles of the nation’s major highway network,
Those 1,800 structurally deficient interstate bridges are crossed 60 million times daily, ARTBA says.
But the problem is even bigger, according to the analysis of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s newly released 2017 National Bridge Inventory database.
In total, 54,259 of the nation’s bridges are rated structurally deficient, says Alison Premo Black, chief economist for ARTBA, which advocates strong investment in U.S. infrastructure. Black conducted the analysis..
If placed end-to-end, the deficient bridges would stretch 1,216 miles, or nearly the distance between Miami and New York City, ARTBA says.
Cars, trucks and school buses cross these 54,259 compromised structures 175 million times every day, the data show.
How a bridge is deemed deficient
The FHWA has established a definition for “structurally deficient,” with ratings based on the National Bridge Inventory ratings scale. Here’s the agency’s definition:
“A highway bridge is classified as structurally deficient if the deck, superstructure, substructure, or culvert is rated in “poor” condition (0 to 4 on the NBI rating scale.”
A bridge can also be classified as structurally deficient if its load carrying capacity is significantly below current design standards or if a waterway below frequently overtops the bridge during floods.