July 18, 2013 10:29:35 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
Data from the Mississippi Office of State Aid Road Construction (OSARC) shows Lowndes County fares well among the state's 82 counties when it comes to the condition of its bridges.
Out of a reported 119 county and local bridges, the county has five reported as red-flagged, or bridges with a sufficiency rating below 50 on a 100-point scale as determined by federal standards, as of Tuesday. Over half of county bridges report sufficiency ratings of 80 or higher.
Those bridges are Canal Road over Sand Creek, Ranson Road over Motley Creek, Armstrong Road over McCrary Creek and two on Nashville Ferry Road over Ellis Creek. All of those are county roads.
Other Golden Triangle area counties report similar results. Eleven of Oktibbeha County's 146 bridges fall short of the sufficiency rating of 50, while 10 of Clay County's 101 bridges fail to meet that standard. Each of those counties also reports more than half of its bridges to be in good condition, according to OSARC map data.
Comparatively, Amite County, which has a population of 13,131 according to 2010 U.S. Census data -- short of Lowndes county by more than 46,000 people -- has 73 bridges out of 179 that fail to meet the criteria for a rating of at least 50.
Lowndes County engineer Bob Calvert said while overall the condition of bridges here is good, there's always room for improvement.
"We need to get those other five, but yes, when you compare us to some of the counties in the state, we're right up there at the top," Calvert said. "Some counties have got just a world of bad bridges left."
Calvert said depending on how much of the county budget is earmarked for bridges each year and how much the county can receive from state aid road funding, construction companies contracted by the county rebuild two to three bridges per year on average. OSARC funding is determined on a competitive basis.
Multiple criteria are used to measure overall sufficiency, including ratings of bridge decks, superstructures, substructures, channels and culverts, depending on what kind of bridge is in question.
While each situation is unique, the total cost of rebuilding a bridge to bring it up to standards depending on size and scope can range from $250,000-350,000.
All bridges in the county are eligible for some state aid road program. Different programs exist for bridges depending on their location, Calvert said.
"Every county has (bridges) considered on system and off system. What's on the state aid system goes in one category, and then you've got federal routes, and that's another category," he said. "Then you've got other bridges that are just pure county bridges ... There are various pots you can pull money out of as far as the funding is concerned. Not every bridge in the county is eligible for every program, but there is a program out there for every bridge they would qualify under."
As for bridges next on the list for the county to rebuild, there are two on Nashville Ferry Road and one on Wolfe Road and Ransom Road that need attention soon, although the latter has been delayed by right-of-way constraints for some time, Calvert said. The county is currently waiting on final authorization from OSARC so it can advertise for bids on the Potts Road bridge.
Most bridge rebuilding projects in Lowndes County are done by contract, Calvert said. In the Fiscal Year 2013 budget, $1,289,320 was earmarked for bridges and culverts.
Bob Phillips of Phillips Construction, who has been the contractor for a number of county bridge projects, said it's a balancing act to get the sufficient funds to replace a bridge. State aid typically funds an entire bridge project, and the counties generally use their bridge funds for maintenance work, he said.
"Lots of times, someone like Mr. Calvert will have a plan ready to go and it may be eight or 10 years before it gets funded," Phillips said.
Funding for an overhaul of a bridge can sometimes be as much as $1 million, he said.
"Everything in the construction industry is driven by fuel. When the fuel is really high, that carries over to delivery of products and materials. It has a domino effect. You've got to haul sand, gravel and cement to the plant, so they just pass that cost on to the end user," Phillips said. "Government regulations have increased the cost tremendously, primarily erosion control. There's a lot of steel in a bridge, and the price of steel is out the roof. (The cost of fuel) trickles down to everything: Getting your crews back and forth to the site and fueling your equipment to do a job trickles so far down, it's a huge expense."
Bridges in Lowndes County with structure ratings below 50 (100 point scale)
■ Canal Road over Sand Creek (37.8)
■ Ranson Road over Motley Creek (34.9)
■ Armstrong Road over McCrary Creek (31.9)
■ Nashville Ferry Road over Ellis Creek (39.8)
■ Nashville Ferry Road over Ellis Creek (40.8)
Bridges in Oktibbeha County with structure ratings below 50 (100 point scale)
■ Self Creek road over tributary to Trim Cane Road (18.5)
■ County Lake Road over Long Branch Creek (42.3)
■ Old West Point Road over Sand Creek (45.5)
■ Mchann Road over Big Creek (39.9)
■ Sturgis-West Point Road over Cypress Creek (49.2)
■ Red Bank Road over Red Bank Creek (29.5)
■ Craig Springs Road over Sand Creek (45.0)
■ Long View Road over Tobacco Creek (39.6)
■ Mount Olive Road over Skinner Creek (33.7)
■ Moor High Road over Browning Creek (20.3)
■ Crawford Road over Catalpa Creek (39.8)
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.