Vital Bridge Could Be Closed For Years
GUM’S CROSSING – Over two months have passed since a vital road in the county was closed after historic flooding and frustration is mounting for residents who live across Skuna River and can no longer cross the bridge on County Road 221, or Gum’s Crossing Road. The detour adds at least an additional 30 miles to get to Coffeeville or other areas of Yalobusha County. And that doesn’t count the return trip, a round trip of 60 or more miles added to the daily commute.
The bridge is located in District 5 and supervisor Gaylon Gray reported that almost one third of his district is cut off from the rest of the county. The traffic count for the bridge was almost 700 vehicles per day, vehicles that include school buses, ambulances, fire trucks and law enforcement vehicles in addition to people making the daily commute to work or shop in the county. Gray reported buses in the Coffeeville district now roll as early as 5 a.m. and some students don’t get home until 5 p.m. Medical emergencies are handled by Grenada County ambulances and law enforcement vehicles, garbage trucks and others making the trip are forced to make the lengthy detour around Grenada Lake.
For some the alternate route includes a rough stretch through Calhoun County before hitting Hwy. 330 farther east and driving back to Coffeeville. Others go all the way back around the lake, traveling through Grenada and back around to Coffeeville on Hwy. 7.
“It’s also tough on our secondary roads,” Gray said about the increased traffic on alternate roads the residents are forced to travel.
“If this bridge got funded today, it would take a year to start construction and another nine to 12 months for completion,” County Engineer Karl Grubb reported about the project. But funding is the biggest obstacle, according to the engineer.
The estimated cost to repair the bridge is $4.4 million, a repair that will only address the failed section on the north side of an aging bridge constructed in the early 1950s. The estimate to replace the entire bridge is $8.2 million.
“With a project of this magnitude, there are not many options,” Grubb continued. “FEMA would not look at it, they said it was on a federal route, it is a federal highway,” the engineer explained, citing a visit the agency made to the county to assess damage following the flooding.
State Aid funding is not a viable option either, as the money that flows to the county from the Office of State Aid Road Construction would have to accumulate for more than a decade to cover a project of this magnitude. This money is provided to assist Mississippi’s 82 counties in the construction and maintenance of secondary, non-state owned roads and bridges. State Aid also administers the Local System Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program for the repair and replacement of the most problematic bridges in the state, but again it just isn’t enough money.
“It is out of our hands,” Gray said about the current funding mechanisms for bridge projects in the county.
“But we are talking to anybody that will listen,” Grubb added. “We have to come up with some other funding source, federal highway or something. We did get the Federal Highway Administration to come look at it. Harry Lee James (State Aid Engineer) is seeking other funds for this work.”
Grubb said the problem is compounded because there are already 500 closed bridges across the state, and adding another one to the tally is not a game changer.
Another problem is the damage that caused the bridge to be closed back in February came just a month after the Mississippi Transportation Commission approved 163 projects to repair or replace crumbling roads and bridges across the state. The total cost of this project will be $250 million, money that was appropriated when state lawmakers met in a special session last August and authorized the state to issue bonds to fund the emergency work.
“That money is already obligated and is not available for this bridge,” Grubb explained.
Meanwhile there is a different cost, the loss of business to merchants in Coffeeville and surrounding areas.
John Swann, owner of Swann’s Piggly Wiggly in Coffeeville, reported his business is down 30 percent since the bridge closed. He reported that the loss of business includes the locals along with turkey hunters and anglers who frequent the area. Grenada Lake is one of the top crappie fishing locations in the country, luring thousands to fish and some to shop while they are in the area.
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