Bridge bill may be ‘shot in arm’

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A bill moving through the Mississippi Legislature that wouldredistribute state road and bridge funds to counties with the mostneed would be a massive boon for local highway maintenance, LincolnCounty officials said.

House Bill 1320, which passed the House Friday on a unanimousvote, calls for counties that fail to use their Local System BridgeProgram funds for two consecutive years to forfeit those funds backto the state for reallocation. LSBP funds are distributed tocounties for bridge and some road repair through the MississippiDepartment of Transportation’s Office of State Aid RoadConstruction.

County Engineer Jeff Dungan, of Dungan Engineering, PA, said thebill would be a good thing for the state and an especially goodthing for Lincoln County, which has “never had a problem” spendingits LSBP funds.

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“That would be a real shot in the arm for [Lincoln County] ifthe funding increases,” he said. “The county is in great need ofall the bridge replacement money it can get because of the numberof deficient bridges.”

Lincoln County ranks high among Mississippi’s 82 counties in thenumber of deficient bridges and overall road mileage.

With so much work to be done, Dungan said the countyconsistently uses its LSBP allotment. But that is not the case withall counties, he said.

Dungan agreed there is a “nasty little loophole” in the LSBPfunding formula, which is dynamic and based on the number ofdeficient bridges in a county. Counties like Lincoln that burnthrough their LSBP funds and replace deficient bridges actuallyreceive smaller allotments as the number of needy bridgesdecreases, while other counties that horde away their state moneyand replace few bridges continue to receive high funding, hesaid.

“This new law will help bring justice to that,” Dungan said.”There are plans up there, many sets, that have been drawn up foryears. Just because you say you’re going to do a project and setaside that money, (state aid) doesn’t consider it spent. In thiscase, if this new law comes into effect, until it’s spent, it’s notsafe.”

Dungan said LSBP allotment statewide is only $20 million – arelatively low number to be divvied up among 82 counties,especially with current high prices in the construction market.

“I can’t imagine a county not needing LSBP funds,” he said.”Once you’ve replaced all your deficient bridges, you can use itfor roads. There’s always a need for it.”

Lincoln County Board of Supervisors President the Rev. JerryWilson said he often tries to bargain with other supervisors aroundthe state, seeking funding from counties with a comparativelylesser need and offering to send them his funding the followingyear once his pressing work is complete.

HB 1320, if passed by the Senate, would be a blessing, hesaid.

“We do a lot with our money,” he said. “There’s a lot ofcounties that take their money and just sit on it, and it justaccumulates and they don’t do anything with it. We need that money,desperately.”

District Three Supervisor Nolan Earl Williamson said he’s beenwaiting for such a law to be passed since assuming office in2000.

“I could spend every bit of the money that comes intoMississippi in Lincoln County,” he said. “It should have done beenlike that.”

Williamson was aggravated at the notion of other countiesletting bridges fall into disrepair while he and local supervisorsconsistently stretch their LSBP money to the limit.

“They’ll just shut the road down, I’m telling you,” he said.