Perry, Lamar counties tackle bridge repairs

By TIM DOHERTY / Hattiesburg American

HATTIESBURG – After about 17 years, one county is nearing the bottom of its list of bridges that needed restoring or rebuilding.
Another is gearing up for an aggressive program that could refurbish or replace nearly one-third of the county’s bridges within the next two or three years.
Despite a rocky economy, both Lamar and Perry counties are among those staying the course to make traversing waterways, gullies and ravines smoother and safer for drivers.
“People don’t know what they’re crossing a lot of times,” said Mitchell Hinton, Perry County Board of Supervisors president. “Everything can look just fine on top, but you don’t know what’s underneath.”
Which, in many cases, is what was discovered after an inspection performed a little more than a year ago in Perry County to comply with state and federal guidelines.
Jason Lamb, project engineer with The Walker Associates LLC, said the inspection revealed 26 of the county’s 109 bridges were graded at less than a 50 percent efficiency rating. Five of the structures were deemed so untenable that they had to be closed to some types of traffic.
“There are bridges in place that are not recommended for travel with school buses, large fire trucks and garbage trucks, and there are areas of the county where alternate routes are in place.
“Unfortunately, some of those are on what one would call primary routes, so, while those bridges remain open, they are not open to significant loads and those will be our primary focus,” Lamb said.
All told, 13 will be replaced, five will be cleaned and repainted and five will undergo general maintenance and repair. In three other locations, new structures will be built to replace undersized pipes and/or bridges.
“It is a combination of both replacement and repair,” Lamb said. “There are some very large structures that have significant steel components that simply require rehabilitation – sandblasting, repainting – where we feel we can extend the structural life of those (bridges), where, because of their size, the replacement costs would just be extravagant.
“The bridges that will be replaced, typically, have deficiencies related to timber pilings and/or timber decks. In fact, there will be two that we are doing work with that will have timber decks, timber surfaces.”
Lamb said he expected bids to be let early next year to start work on five structures – four of them on primary roads.
Getting started
While some counties pool state and federal funds to make repairs on a pay-as-you-go basis, Hinton said Perry County could no longer afford to delay.
“Our problem had been that our bridges’ (deterioration) was overtaking the way we were able to replace them, having to wait on state or federal money,” Hinton said.
So, Perry County issued a $6 million bond to cover the work on the 26 bridges, which is expected to take anywhere from 24 to 36 months.
“We were very fortunate,” Hinton said. “We had just (retired) two other bonds, so this way, we’ll have the same bond payment and be able to attend to these bridges in a relatively short period of time without having to raise anyone’s taxes.”
Which is not to say the county has not used other funding sources in the past, nor will in the future as well.
Since 2000, Perry County replaced 27 structures – totaling $5.4 million – with the assistance of the Office of State Aid Road Construction, as well as the use of state and federal funds supplied by the Mississippi Development Authority.
In the next few years, in addition to the bond money, Lamb said one project will be paid though federal Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program funds, two will be funded through Local System Bridge Program money and five come under the auspices of the United States Forest Service because they fall within the DeSoto National Forest.
All told, by the end of 2013, 56 percent of the bridges in Perry County will have been replaced or refurbished over a 13-year period.
“State Aid (which administers the LSBP and BR) has approved funding to replace three other bridges, and the U.S. Forest Service has provided a funding source to complete the new construction of five bridges that are currently deficient,” Lamb said. “The value of these projects total $4.3 million.”
But, with purse strings possibly drawing even tighter in fiscal year 2011-12 for state allocations such as the Local System Bridge Program, being able to pay for projects through local bond initiatives is a savvy alternative.
“It very well may be that you’d want to consider bonding road or bridge projects in the next couple of years,” state Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said. “Bond rates are about as low as I can remember, and labor costs right now are very reduced because of a dearth of work, so bids are coming back under (cost) estimates, and that’s a very good thing.
“If you can pay your current bills and handle some debt service, now would be the appropriate time if you were thinking about doing bonding.”
Looking at Lamar
Bonding was the route taken by Lamar County in 1993, when it issued $4.4 million to target 56 bridges, most with timber underpinnings.
The project came on the heels of a 1992 tragedy, where two women were killed and two others injured when the roadway slabs of a span over Black Creek collapsed.
“In 1993, we went to the Mississippi Legislature to ask for help, and were told there was nothing they could do that year, so that was the year we did the bond issue,” said Lamar County Supervisor Mike Backstrom.
“Then, you had bridges that collapsed in two other counties, and in 1994, we went with those counties back to the Legislature, and this time they did help (creating the LSBP).”
County engineer Don Walker said since the 1990s, Lamar County had replaced 83 bridges, including 56 through the bond issue, 16 through federal/state-aid funds and 11 through LSBP money.
“It was a very ambitious project, that bond project, and the county should be commended,” Walker said. “It was remarkably cost effective, with 56 bridges in a two-year period, but it’s what was needed.
“They were very well ahead of the curve on this, and the dollars were very well spent.”
One bridge project is under way – a $219,000 replacement of a bridge over Boggy Hollow Creek near Purvis – while another, a $510,058 replacement on Gum Pond near Lumberton, is expected to begin soon. Both are expected to be finished by year’s end, leaving Lamar County with just two more bridges to attend to beyond basic maintenance.
“Those are the last two that we have programmed into the schedule,” Walker said. “After that, all the bridges in the county will have been replaced that needed to be replaced.”