Two more bridges replaced; county still in crisis

Published 7:01 am Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Jefferson Davis County’s largest and most valuable capital asset is its road infrastructure, which includes roads, bridges, culverts and associated rights-of-way.

A statewide bridge crisis that began in 2017 has warranted a great deal of county attention and resources since that time.

The crisis was brought on by a change in the way timber bridge components are condition rated. Timber components generally accepted were at once placed in an unacceptable condition which resulted in many bridge closures and postings across the state. “The last timber piling driven in Jefferson Davis County was in the ‘80s”, said county engineer Les Dungan. “It was common practice from the early ‘60s until the mid-80s to use timber, until concrete and steel became the norm.” Today there are 263 county bridges listed as closed and 1859 posted for low weight throughout the state. Jefferson Davis County maintains a total of 108 bridges. In 2017, 35 bridges were determined to have significant timber components providing support to the bridges.

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The county relies on State CHBP, State Aid and LSBP funds to totally replace the bridges once that funding is available. To date, the county has used these funds to replace nine bridges at the cost of over $4.6 million. Those nine bridges are located on Ebenezer Church Road, Kings Road, Graves Keys Road, Speights Road, two on Bass Burkett Road, South Williamsburg Road and Clem School Road.

There are three bridges currently under contract for construction utilizing $1.8 million of state funding: Jones Ford Road, South Pleasant Hill Road (Dry Creek) and West St. Stephens Road. South Pleasant Hill and West St. Stephens bridges are complete and inspected earlier this month. The bridge on Higgs Road, just off Highway 13 South, has been closed permanently.

This leaves 22 county bridges in need of repair or replacement as soon as possible at an estimated cost of $11,500,000: Candy Lane, Golden Pine Road, Jackson Bridges Road, Joe Dyess Road, Jones Ford Road, Melba Road, Mobley Road, Mt. Zion Road, Ned Riley Road, Oak Grove Road, Old Highway 13 North, Polk’s Meat Road, Santee Methodist Road, Silver Swamp Road, South Pleasant Hill Road (White Sand Creek), Sugar Ridge Road, Sumrall Road, Wiley Dyess Road, Williamson Mill Road, Sam Graham Road, Sam Graham Road (Bouie) and Zion Hill Church Road.

The two bridges on Sam Graham Road have been closed for two years and are in need of repair. Residents in that area met with the Jefferson Davis County Board of Supervisors in October 2021 to express concerns regarding the bridges. “It sure is hurting people on that road,” said James Townsend. Townsend has a daughter who is a nurse that lives two miles from him. “She has to travel 10 miles out of the way just to get to our house when we need her. I’m begging you to fix the bridge.”  Both bridges cannot be repaired and are on the list to be replaced, but funding is currently not available. “The pilings under the bridges on Sam Graham are in such bad shape, there was no choice but to shut them down and wait on the funding to replace them,” said District 4 Supervisor Terry Mathis.

Since the bridge crisis began almost five years ago, the county has been forced to divert funds from their paving budgets to repair and replace bridges according to Dungan. The county has spent approximately $400,000 of local funding, in addition to state aid, throughout the five years to maintain these bridges in a serviceable condition.