The highway system in the Mississippi Delta was a marvel for its time, considering the bayous, swamps and other obstacles that had to be overcome. But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that parts of the system have not kept pace with the times.
In recent weeks, hundreds of truckloads of grain have been being detoured from Mississippi Highway 6 between Batesville and Clarksdale even though they are hauling a legally-permitted weight load.
“Simply put, we have a permit to load grain in trucks to a level of 84,000 pounds, but the bridges along Highway 6 are posted at weight limits that are far below that capacity because they are more than 50 years old and deteriorating,” stated Butch Scipper, a farmer and vice chairman of the Delta Council’s Transportation Committee.
Scipper, chancery court clerk in Quitman County, which includes a segment of Highway 6, presided over a meeting convened by the Delta Council in Clarksdale, Sept. 11, to identify a short-term alternative for this year’s harvest.
“There is certainly no farmer who wants to compromise the safety of the traveling public, but it is even more unreasonable for us to be in a situation where all commerce, including agricultural crops, manufacturing goods and other services to an entire region to be literally stopped in the middle of a highway and turned around because the State of Mississippi has not dedicated the necessary funding for bridge maintenance on a major highway,” said Scipper.
Besides seeking an immediate alternative, Scipper and other Delta Council leaders are also stressing the necessity of an emergency and expedited schedule for bridge replacements throughout Highway 6.
The Delta Council group adopted a resolution urging the Mississippi Congressional Delegation, Members of the Mississippi Legislature, the Office of the Governor, and MDOT to treat Highway 6 bridge replacement as an emergency relief operation since the major east-west corridor controls the movement of commerce and economic activity in the Northwest part of the State.
The replacement of the structurally deficient bridges along Highway 6 are estimated to cost $50 million. To move these projects into an expedited schedule, Delta Council members were told environmental documentation would have to be hurriedly completed, right-of-way acquisition and utility relocation would have to be implemented and the design-construction phase would need to be advanced at once.
“This is a situation of crisis dimensions for this part of the State, and it is a terrific blow to the local economy when any business must incur the added expense of traveling extra miles to get their goods and services to the market place,” added Scipper.
Willie Huff, chief of enforcement for the Mississippi Department of Transportation, attended the meeting and explained the rationale behind the stepped-up enforcement: Federal Highway Administration officials have threatened to withdraw funding from highway projects in the state unless the state addresses the problem of unsafe bridges along Highway 6 and in other sections of the state.
To view and interactive map of posted bridges in the state of Mississippi please visit: http://mdot.ms.gov/portal/posted_bridges.aspx