OUR OPINION: New bridges scheduled after a lengthy process

By NEMS Daily Journal

Alcorn County plans to award contracts on Monday involving construction of three new bridges on isolated County Road 600, which has been closed for five years because a historic iron span over a Hatchie River tributary must be moved and replaced, not razed.
The county’s patient waiting in the process for funding the bridges, which falls under the Office of State Aid Road Construction/Mississippi State Aid Road Program, will restore convenience and safety for residents of western Alcorn County and nearby eastern Tippah County.
State Aid is funded by the state’s gasoline tax, which is apportioned to the counties, which then set construction schedules by action of boards of supervisors.
The system works, but it is slow, and rising costs suggest revisiting the revenue stream from the state’s gasoline tax might be a good idea for the Legislature.
The bridges to be replaced serve the Union Center community, an unincorporated area near the Alcorn-Tippah County boundary south of U.S. Highway 72.
Local traffic, including school buses and official vehicles, have had to travel on Highway 72, a major east-west route, while the bridges have been out. The re-routing creates issues of both safety and convenience.
The bridge to be replaced was built by the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal Program of the first half of the 20th century. It cannot be dismantled and discarded, so it will be removed and preserved. The new site for the bridge will be on another nearby county road.
While the wait for new bridges and a reopened road has been long, Mississippi’s system of State Aid bridges works, State Aid engineer Kerry Webb said Wednesday afternoon in a telephone interview. He added, however, available funding doesn’t stretch as far as the certified needs statewide.
Surveys like Transportation for America have found that about one in six Mississippi bridges needs replacement, but the percentage in Alcorn and most other Northeast Mississippi counties is lower.
State Aid operates on an annual budget of more than $175 million, with most spent on construction and maintenance. However, with waits of five years in some cases like Alcorn County’s Road 600, the question is whether that revenue is adequate to act in a timely manner on the tasks awaiting action.