Gov. Phil Bryant has ordered the Mississippi Department of Transportation to close at least 102 roadway bridges owned by cities and counties, saying "these bridges have been deemed unsafe for the traveling public."
Bryant first declared a "state of emergency" April 10 and ordered MDOT to close 83 locally owned bridges, saying the Federal Highway Administration was "concerned that the bridges remaining open constitutes an unacceptable safety risk to the traveling public whose remedy requires immediate federal, state and local action."
His announcement said those structures slated for immediate closure are in the counties of Amite, Carroll, Clarke, Greene, Hinds, Humphreys, Itawamba, Jasper, Jones, Lauderdale, Leake, Lincoln, Newton, Pike, Smith and Wayne, and that his "proclamation also applies to bridges that are found to be deficient in the future."
On April 11, Mississippi Today reported, the state Office of State Aid Road Construction had updated its list of bridges that qualified for the closure, adding 19 more.
The Wall Street Journal said April 12 that the state DOT was to start notifying local authorities that morning to close the structures within 24 hours or the state would step in. The bridges are to remain closed until their conditions are remedied so that they comply with laws and regulations.
Now, said Bryant, "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." His order also directs the state police to help MDOT implement the closures.
Bryant in his emergency announcement said the FHWA's Mississippi Division began working with MDOT in November 2016 "to review and evaluate the bridges that were identified in the National Bridge Inventory as being in the worst condition, to ensure they were safe to remain open to traffic."
In March 2017, he continued, state and federal developed an action plan to address compliance issues and that the primary action item required the state to hire independent consultants to perform inspections of all local bridges with timber substructure.
As a result, this spring the FHWA's Mississippi Division subsequently determined many of the bridges deemed to be deficient still remained open to the public.
In his proclamation, Bryant said the USDOT in an April 5 letter had informed his office about the FHWA findings and "the potential consequences" for the state if those bridges remained open.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation has begun providing motorists on a busy highway with estimated travel times on new dynamic message signs, in a technology-focused project that official hope will ease congestion on a route used by 40,000 vehicles a day.
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