Efforts to fix a fallen bridge on one of West Point”s busiest roads have met rejection after rejection.
Phylis Bensen, project analyst for the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District, has been working for a month to secure funding for repairs to the Main Street bridge at the intersection of Main Street and Highway 45 Alternate. The 120-year-old bridge collapsed more than a month ago when erosion pulled the sides of the brick arch away from the embankment, causing the middle to collapse.
West Point City Administrator Randy Jones says the road once supported 9,000-13,000 vehicles a day, including heavy trucks, but would completely collapse if it were in service.
Bensen”s search for funding has encountered multiple roadblocks. For various reasons, the bridge project doesn”t meet the requirements for multiple state programs.
“I”ve checked into several programs, but this particular incident just does not fit the minimum threshold,” said Bensen.
The bridge doesn”t qualify as an emergency situation, although a sinkhole at the corner of Highway 45 Alternate and Church Hill Road in West Point several months ago did meet emergency criteria. The city received $100,000 in Community Block Development Grants and $250,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission to fix the sinkhole.
The Mississippi Development Authority has had agents in the West Point area to survey the damage to the bridge, but Bensen said MDA guidelines “clearly state bridges are not eligible under the emergency category.”
Because the bridge closure effects access to several businesses, Bensen attempted to secure CBDG funds for the purposes of economic development. But because only retail businesses are affected and not industrial businesses, the project did not qualify.
The issue is further complicated by the timing of the bridge”s collapse. Because it occurred at the end of the fiscal year and at a time when many Mississippi agencies already are underfunded, money for repairs is difficult to secure.
“So many agencies that would normally deal with this have been out of money for months,” said Bensen.
A permanent reconstruction of the bridge could cost between $400,000-$650,000, according to Jones. And it will have to come in the form of a pour-and-form concrete bridge. A prefabricated steel bridge would be the best option, he said, but tension lines above the street eliminate the option of using a crane to lower a bridge into place.
Once funding is secured, Jones expects construction to take between three to six months to complete.
Meanwhile, the city is looking at a number of other options.
To help alleviate traffic problems, the city is working with the private owner of the nearby Kroger plaza parking lot land to fix the pot-hole-riddled lot.
“We”re trying to work something out on a temporary lease or easement,” said Jones of using the parking lot.
The county Board of Supervisors is willing to help however it can with the situation, Clay County District 1 Supervisor Luke Lummus said.
The supervisors can”t petition for funds because the project is a city matter, but he said the county will donate labor to help repair the parking lot for a detour.
“We already talked with Mr. Randy (Jones) and assured him we would help them with labor and on the hauling. We could probably help them with some materials and filling the holes (in front of Kroger),” said Lummus. “We”ve got a lot of equipment operators. Whatever we need to do to try to help them, we”re going to accommodate them.”
But the detour will only relieve some of the congestion on Main Street while creating congestion in the Kroger plaza parking lot.
Jones is seeking a Bailey bridge, a temporary steel bridge the city could assemble.
“We may have to close to one lane (of traffic), but this will allow you, until you get ready to start construction, to have traffic flow,” said Jones.
The problem with the Bailey bridge is locating one. Jones has been told the Mississippi Department of Transportation supplies such resources, but MDOT has been unable to find one.
“We”re dealing with MEMA, FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, MDOT and anyone else who might have some knowledge of this,” said Jones.
West Point would pay only transportation at a nominal cost if a Bailey bridge becomes available.
The city also is looking to higher powers. U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, D-Miss., has visited West Point to assess the bridge situation. Jones said Childers is exploring federal funding resources.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.