- Associated Press - Sunday, February 8, 2015

GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Sometime before 2:30 p.m. last September, a truck crossed the bridge on Abide Airport Road over drainage canal No. 9, causing the span’s supporting timbers to buckle and the roadway to collapse.

The truck made it over. The damage it caused remains to this day. Signs announcing “Road Closed” are still in place.

The half-century-old bridge had a nearly 30-ton capacity rating at the time it was built. That’s no longer the case.

“We did a bridge inspection (in early 2014) and put up signs that said the bridge could only hold 3 tons, which is 6,000 pounds,” Mark Hooker Sr., whose firm is the consulting engineer for Washington County and the City of Greenville, said at the time. “Our (weight-limit) signs were up when the truck crossed the bridge.”

He said it’s no surprise the truck driver kept going.

“This happens often,” he said. “A truck loaded heavier than it should be will ride over a bridge, crush it and keep going. The truck driver more than likely knew what he did, but wasn’t going to stay because he knew he was overloaded. The best thing about it was that it happened during the day. If it was night, someone might not have seen it and have fallen right in.”

The Abide Airport Road bridge is symptomatic of a much larger problem throughout Washington County.

“We’re really seeing the deterioration pick up on our bridges, and we have to pick up the speed that we’re replacing them,” Hooker told the Washington County Board of Supervisors last month.

There are 281 bridges in Washington County, said Daniel Hooker, an engineer with Hooker Engineering Services. He and his team recently concluded an inspection of 215 of them, which, on average, were built 39 years ago; the oldest around 1940.

The inspections followed federal bridge-evaluation standards handed down by the Federal Highway Administration. Bridges must be inspected at least every two years for any abnormal wear, and load capacities also are tested.

Forty of the 215 bridges inspected in the latest Washington County survey were so-called scour bridges - ones with supports scoured by swiftly moving water.

Each bridge is inspected to ensure required weight limits are posted, that guard rails and decks are in good repair and that the superstructure that supports the roadway and the substructure below it are, as well.

Additionally, inspectors take into account bridge geometry, traffic patterns and water flow before assigning a sufficiency rating on a scale of zero to 100.

This year, Daniel Hooker said, at least 50 of the 215 bridges inspected were accorded sufficiency ratings below 50.

Of those, he said, “several need repair soon. The paperwork that we have to send to the Office of State Aid Road Construction makes it take a bit longer.”

David Barrett, the bridge inspection manager for the Office of State Aid Road Construction, said the data then are forwarded to the Federal Highway Administration along with data compiled by the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

“We use the data to help the county determine which state aid projects should be completed first,” he said.

Statewide, there are nearly 11,000 bridges; on average, 6,500 are inspected every year, Barrett said.

Every four years, Washington County receives a fixed amount of $2.5 million - $625,000 a year - for state aid road projects and $1.5 million - $375,000 a year - for local system bridge projects.

“It’s not nearly enough funds for the number of bridges we have here in the county,” Mark Hooker Sr. said, though noting the state recently disbursed an additional $32 million as a result of increased revenues. “We try to find funds that we can use on the county bridges any way we can, particularly through grants.”

In the 2013 fiscal year, Mississippi counties received $143.5 million for construction contracts, including $96 million in state aid projects, according to the most recent fiscal report by the Office of State Aid Road Construction.

The Washington County in fiscal year 2014-15 allotted $290,000 for bridge repairs.

“Once our county engineers are done with their inspections, it’s time to work on the bridges based on their needs,” said county road manager Arthur Perry said. “If during the inspection a bridge is found to be in need of immediate work, the Hookers are good at calling us, and we immediately notify the county’s emergency department and have them let everyone know that we’re shutting down that road or bridge to fix a problem.”

Perry said the immediacy of bridge repairs depends on traffic patterns.

“There are a lot of bridges that we take our time getting to because no one ever uses that road,” he said. “When we get a bridge that needs work on a major road where residents have to travel, we make that a priority. The higher the traffic flow, the higher the bridge moves up on our list.”

Perry’s crews continually assess best repair practices. To wit, they have switched from using wooden pilings to support bridges to concrete-filled steel pilings.

“Wood pilings deteriorate faster,” he noted, “and with steel and concrete, once the steel begins to deteriorate, the concrete inside will still have lots of life.”

Perry said steel-and-concrete pilings last an average of five to 10 years longer than do wood pilings.

The road crews on average repair or replace some 45 bridges a year, he said.

Daniel Hooker said that while nature is inherently hard on infrastructure, bridges also are harmed by stream patterns altered by those who use waterways for illegal dumping.

“Trash is a big issue with these bridges,” he said. “People have thrown TVs, refrigerators, bags of trash and other household appliances into the ditches where these bridges are located, and that’s causing major erosion and speeding up the deterioration process on the bridges.”

Perry agreed.

“People have to understand that when they litter or throw anything on our roads that it’s coming back to hurt them in some way,” Perry said. “We also urge residents to report anything that they think may be unsafe or out of the ordinary with roads and bridges.”


Information from: Delta Democrat-Times, https://www.ddtonline.com

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