When Infrastructure Fails

Ever since I can remember there has always been a lot of talk everywhere about what to do with the crumbling American infrastructure. In Mississippi, as of April 10, 2018, another 100 rural bridges have been closed by emergency proclamation of the Governor. Talk is now pointless—action is needed. Mississippi has an acute infrastructure problem.   Infrastructure has failed and many more rural bridges around the country are headed that way.

In the January 2018 annual report from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, 54,259 US bridges were considered “structurally deficient” around the country.

If you live in town or a big urban center, it might be hard to understand how a small county bridge can fail…isn’t someone making sure it’s maintained? There are four main reasons rural bridges fail:

 ·    Rural counties don’t have the money due to a small tax base to hire all the personnel and buy the equipment/materials needed to maintain all the roads and bridges that need attention.
·    Bridges are built for a good amount of time—but year after year of wear and tear above and below can eventually exhaust a bridge and it’s time is naturally up.
·    Trucks and tractors have gotten heavier and if they are hauling even heavier loads over a bridge that was not meant for that kind of load, the bridge will eventually begin to break down.
·    Weather can cause havoc too…too much water all at once or water all the time can erode the foundation the bridge is built upon.

In Hinds County, Mississippi 36 bridges needed to be closed in this recent emergency proclamation and the state had to step into help since the closures had to be made in 24 hours. Hinds County is the state’s most populated county (245,285 people in the 2010 census) and the state capital Jackson is located there. Some Hinds County neighborhoods have one way in and one way out and if that is over a bridge that is now closed, folks can feel stranded or even feel evicted out of an area he or she has lived their entire life.

The state’s Department of Transportation (DOT) Director Melinda McGrath said the state had to close down these city and county bridges because they were judged deficient by federal National Bridge Inspection Standards and if they were not closed, the state could potentially lose $525 million federal dollars. But the state and these local county governments had known about this problem for many months and nothing had really been done. Because what can they really do if there is no money to fix the bridges and people still need to use them?

In November 2016, the Federal Highway Administration requested MDOT review more than 1,542 bridges on the National Bridge Inventory. This review found 378 local bridges should be closed to traffic and in 2017 a plan was put in place to get the worst of the timber-pile bridges into compliance. McGrath said this meant closing any bridges that were a danger to motorists.

In March, the FHA notified the Governor that many of the most dangerous bridges were still not closed. That is why the government had to declare an emergency situation to get these bridges closed.

Officials from the Office of State Aid Road Construction, which helps counties maintain roads and bridges that the state does not maintain and administers a program that helps repair or replace the state’s worst bridges, said that as of April 10, 2018, a total of 542 bridges have been closed.

McGrath said that counties are ultimately responsible for repairing and replacing local bridges but “The counties just cannot afford to do it.”

She added that it is up to state leaders to find a solution that provides money needed for local bridge repairs. One proposal came last week immediately after the newest news of the latest bridge closings: A tax swap…increase the gas tax but level the income tax.

In September 2017, Mississippi held the distinction as the number one state with the poorest population in the nation with 20.8 percent living below the poverty threshold. An increase in the gas tax would certainly hurt the working poor but it may be necessary in order to pull the state out of its infrastructure emergency.

Mississippi lawmakers have been talking for many years on how to find the funds for infrastructure but have had little desire to get things done. Will this latest crisis spur them into action or will they once again not do anything to help their state’s failed bridges and other infrastructure issues?

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