Mississippi’s bridges could cause special session

The current state of Mississippi’s bridges could lead to a special session for lawmakers.

Just a week ago, legislators adjourned and left the Capitol without passing a comprehensive plan to fix the state’s roads and bridges, and if something isn’t done soon, Mississippi could lose federal funding.  Recently, 114 bridges were identified for review by the Federal Government and 72 were ordered to be closed immediately.

Despite the order, many remained open, and that led to Governor Bryant receiving a call from Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. He stated that during the call, he was told about the failure to close the bridges and that if they remained open, Mississippi would lose out on important funding.

“The secretary told me that if we don’t get those bridges closed; if we don’t stop traffic from going across those bridges, that we could possibly see a termination of federal highway funds. That is not an option,” Governor Bryant insisted.

Governor Bryant said the legislature did put $50 million into a bond package to repair bridges, but that doesn’t go into effect until July 1st, so they must find ways to quickly get the bridges closed. After the bridges are closed, they can turn their attention to a more detailed plan moving forward, and one of the ways that could be done is through a special session.

“We need to look at something that can have an immediate response,” the Governor said. “I told the secretary that we would have a corrective action plan within two weeks to her office to prevent any termination of federal dollars to the state for these federal highway programs. So, I am working with the leadership of the House and Senate to make sure that we have a suitable solution for this problem.”

During the 2018 session, both the House and Senate proposed their own plan for Mississippi’s infrastructure, but the two sides were unable to come to terms during negotiations. Lt. Governor Tate Reeves’ BRIDGE act promised $1 billion of infrastructure spending, but the bill died after Speaker of the House Philip Gunn said that the bill did not create “real dollars” for the state. In the meantime, the Governor says that the safety of Mississippi motorists must be factored in.

“I will be looking at my authority as Governor to order those bridges closed and take what action I have to; working with MDOT to close them before someone loses their life. Then, we’ll have to find a solution about how we go about repairing and replacing these bridges,” Governor Bryant said.

Bridges at the county level are overseen by Office of State Aid Road Construction. Assistant State Aid Engineer with the department, Lanny Glover says that it’s up to the individual counties to close the bridges, but he hopes that now they will see how important it is to follow the instruction of the federal government.

“The pressure is on, and the pressure is going up. We hope that they will comply,” Glover expressed. “Some of them are trying to replace their bridges themselves on the county level, but that doesn’t help us today to comply with the requirements.”

Glover closed by stating that the only fix for the roads is more money and more resources.