Miss. 26 bridge may be closed for a month

Some George County school kids and bus drivers will be among those inconvenienced by Monday morning's accident that knocked a bridge out of commission.

A truck hit a metal truss on the Mississippi 26 bridge over the Pascagoula River, causing major damage that will be evaluated by an engineering firm today. The Mississippi Department of Transportation says it could be out as long as a month.

"It adds an hour to their school days - 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon," George County Schools Superintendent Donnie Howell said Monday. "Tomorrow, we have state testing at the high school and we've already made arrangements to start late.

"It's just very difficult on the children. They already have a long school day. Some of the kids have an hour's bus ride anyway."

Southern District Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown said a truck hauling a tree trimmer was too tall for the bridge, which he said had a clearance approaching 14 feet. Officials at George County Regional Hospital said there were no injuries in the accident.

Mississippi 26 connects Lucedale and Wiggins, eventually going to Poplarville, a line of county seats in George, Stone and Pearl River counties. In 2005, a traffic survey counted 3,300 cars that used the bridge daily.

The school system will use U.S. 98 from just north of downtown Lucedale up to McLain, then south on Mississippi 57 to Benndale as a detour. It discovered in the spring, when a similar accident involving a debris truck closed the bridge for a month, that it's a little shorter than going south on U.S. 63 to Wade-Vancleave Road and then back up Mississippi 57.

MDOT is bringing in Flame On Inc. of Washington state to look at the damage. The agency has used the company for emergency repairs before, including a 1998 job repairing the old U.S. 90 bridge over the Pascagoula River in Pascagoula after a ship broke free and floated into it.

MDOT District Engineer Ricky Lee said the truck tore several main members of the truss in two, with several others bent badly. He said there would be no quick fix.

"It's not looking too good. We're hoping that it takes no longer than a month."