Jackson County

A major Coast highway closed for 2 years? Couldn’t someone patch the bridge?

The state estimates it will take 18 months to build a new Red Creek Bridge, starting sometime next year.

That puts Mississippi 57 — a hurricane evacuation route and major road into town for Ingalls workers — closed for almost two years, and that’s if the weather is good and the contract comes in on time.

The Sun Herald received a letter from a former Jackson County supervisor who said he thinks that’s too long. Other county officials said they also want to look into what could be done.

Last month, a trackhoe being pulled by a large truck crashed into the old, 1950s truss bridge, causing significant damage to the superstructure. The bridge is 21 miles north of I-10 on Mississippi 57. The closure is causing commuters, school buses and trucks to detour off the state highway and go miles out of their way on state and Jackson County roads.

Tommy Brodnax, former supervisor, wrote that he is an engineer and inspected the damaged bridge.

“I can see no reason not to immediately repair the damage and open it to all vehicular traffic,” Brodnax wrote. He said as supervisor he oversaw the Fort Bayou Bridge project and took interest in other bridge replacements in the county. He showed the Sun Herald what he thinks needs to be repaired.

“MDOT’s Southern District Engineer, Kelly Castleberry, is very capable of overseeing this repair. Highway 57 is a vital link to the Gulf Coast. ... Highway Commissioner Tom King should have the commission declare this an emergency, call in a reputable contractor, and see the repair takes place as soon as possible and reopen the bridge,” Brodnax wrote.

There’s lots of corrosion

MDOT’s Castleberry said there would be a lot to repairing the bridge, and he put the cost at $200,000.

First of all, the bridge is old and the trusses that carry the load are damaged, Castleberry said.

“Four of the main steel members up top were sheered completely off,” he said. “Those members would have to be fabricated. They don’t make the truss bridges like that anymore.

“There’s also a hole in the deck,” he said. Actually there are three.

“The issues MDOT has is that we were planning on tearing that bridge down,” he said. “Putting money into a structure that we’ll tear down is a problem.”

And the bridge already had a weight restriction, before it was damaged. He said even with repairs, the bridge will be deficient based on the amount of corrosion.

“We can spend that money, but trucks still won’t be able to use it,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense for taxpayers to repair it.”

The initial plan, before the wreck, was to keep traffic on that bridge while the state built a new bridge right next to it. The state has bought the right-of-way and moved the utilities for the new bridge, he said, and is trying to let a contract by January.

Can they speed up the new bridge?

He said they will try to put incentives in the contract to speed up the construction time, estimated at 18 months.

Castleberry said 1,500 vehicles a day use that section of Mississippi 57, so it’s not considered heavily traveled.

Jackson County Supervisor Troy Ross said he hates to see the traffic from that state highway diverted to county roads that aren’t built to handle the load.

“That’s two years out and putting stress on all the surrounding roads,” Ross said.

Ross said the county is pressing MDOT to get it moved up as a priority. And because it’s a major north-south corridor, he has spoken with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“Patched? We could have engineers look at it to see if that’s safe and if there is a possibility. I haven’t had anyone tell me it can’t be patched,” Ross said.

Brodnax said he thinks $200,000 isn’t too much.

He said, “That’s $100,000 a year to benefit the general public.”