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Bridge work underway in Lafayette County

County Engineer Larry Britt provided an update on bridge repairs in Lafayette County during yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

An updated list of dangerous bridges was released by Gov. Phil Bryant last week, which included more than 100 bridges in 16 counties. Lafayette County was not named on the list, but county road crews will be working this week to repair three bridges: bridge 159 on County Road 369 near Douglas Lake, bridge 164 on County Road 424 and bridge 165 on County Road 381, both near Paris community.

According to Britt, his office received a phone call last Friday afternoon saying the bridges needed to be temporarily closed.

“The last one has some stringers that need to be fixed that are not easy, but it’s fixable,” Britt said. “The other two, basically we’ve got to remove some excess asphalt that’d probably been overlaid a couple times when the road was fixed, and we’ve got to get that excess asphalt off because they call it dead load, which means it’s there all the time, and it can’t carry the live load, which is vehicular traffic, because of the weight of the dead load.”

Britt said the closures began Monday morning, and bridge 164 being the first one crews would begin repairing.

According to Joe Bynum, assistant road manager for Lafayette County, the repairs will be completed within a month.

“I’m going to say the repairs will take at least two weeks, possibly three,” Bynum said. “As long as the weather holds out and we don’t have any delays getting bridge lumber, we shouldn’t have any problems.”

After repairs are made, representatives from the state aid office will give the bridges a final inspection.

Lafayette County has a total of 150 bridges to maintain, either through its own funding or federal or state funds. Out of those, Britt said, seven bridges are scheduled to be repaired using funds from the Local System Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program, or LSBP. The bridges are located on County Roads 100, 106, 332, 352 and 473. Three of the bridges are located on County Road 100.

LSBP provides funding for replacement and rehabilitation of deficient bridges maintained by counties or municipalities excluding bridges on the State Aid System, the municipal urban system or the rural major collector system. Bridges with a sufficiency rating of 25 or below are considered dangerous. Currently, the lowest-rated bridge in Lafayette County has a sufficiency rating of 27.3.

However, there might not be enough funding to repair those seven bridges, due to inaction on the state legislature’s part. According to Britt, currently, LSBP may not allocate enough funds to cover the expenses necessary to repair those bridges.

It’s a problem District 1 Supervisor Kevin Frye said is a “stress” on county officials, because they are already pushed to their limit.

“It would be fair to say that the county is reliant on state funding sources to upkeep the bridges in Lafayette County, and when the state chooses not to fund LSBP at the level they have historically funded it, not to increase funding sources for the county, that puts a stress on our county just like every other county,” Frye said. “With the county’s revenue stream, we have property taxes, but we don’t have the ability to levy sales taxes or other types of funding sources that are available to the state and even some of the cities.”

Should legislature choose to underfund LSBP, the bridges will eventually fall into disrepair and the county will be forced to close them indefinitely or find other means of funding the repairs. Britt admitted that LSBP, when it is fully funded, is one of the “best programs the state’s ever put out,” but that has not been the case in recent years.

Over the last five years, bridge investment in Mississippi has accounted for 23.9 percent of highway and bridge contract awards in the state, compared to an average of 28.9 percent nationwide.

Britt also said, the most important thing to remember is there’s no harm in letting state officials know there is a need for infrastructure funding. Although no special session for Mississippi legislature has been called, the hope, Britt said, is that there would be more discussion on the necessity of LSBP funds.

“Y’all have 150 bridges. (Bynum) doesn’t have the budget to go fix them every time something goes wrong, and we all know the traffic has gotten worse. We depend on the state to have money to fix them,” Britt said. “It never hurts to let your legislature know that we really need that help.”