State Money Will Fund Work On 211
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COFFEEVILLE – After months of discussion, Yalobusha County supervisors have decided which projects to tackle with $1.7 million allocated from State Aid funding, and the list is short. In a verbal agreement in Monday’s meeting at the Coffeeville courthouse, the county leaders instructed County Engineer Karl Grubb to allocate upwards of a half a million dollars from the fund to help pay for the Gum’s Crossing bridge replacement and another million dollars to resurface a seven-mile stretch on County Road 211.
This board decision only comes once every four years, as money is allocated from the Mississippi Department of Transportation through the Mississippi Office of State Aid Road Construction for counties in a four year cycle that coincides with the supervisors’ terms. Monday’s decision means that the two projects will exhaust the State Aid funding until the next term, 2024 to 2027, and other projects will be put on the back burner.
State Aid funds can be utilized for both bridge and road work on designated state aid routes in the county, described as a network of collector and distributor routes that connect to the state highway system and other major county roads. In Yalobusha County there are 85 county and local bridges according to the Mississippi Office of State Aid Road Construction. Just over half (46 bridges) are on the State Aid System.
This list of bridges includes the one at Gum’s Crossing, which has long been identified by officials as the most critical infrastructure need in the county. At just under a half-mile long, the bridge is the longest in Yalobusha County, crossing Skuna River and a portion of the backwaters at Grenada Lake. It has been closed for over two years, forcing hundreds of Yalobusha residents who live south of Skuna River to detour 30 miles or more, one way, to get to Coffeeville or other areas of the county.
Supervisors awarded a $16.24 million bid in January to replace the bridge and are working to cobble together funding to cover the county’s 20 percent portion of the project after the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration committed to fund 80 percent.
The bridge is located in District Five Supervisor Gaylon Gray’s beat, and he reiterated the importance of the project in Monday’s meeting.
“I can say this about my bridge – y’all just ride with me one week, when it is raining like this, through the Calhoun Wildlife Management Area, and you will do anything short of selling your soul to get a bridge,” Gray said. He then continued to tell the group about the muddy detour through Calhoun County to get to the next bridge that spans Skuna River farther upstream.
While supervisors have long been in agreement that some portion of the $1.7 million from State Aid funding will be allocated for the bridge replacement, Monday’s decision to utilize approximately $500,000 to $600,000 for the Gum’s Crossing Bridge put the matter to rest and allowed supervisors to focus on how to allocate the remainder of the State Aid money.
First-term supervisor Eddie Harris has remained steadfast that one of the most urgent projects in the county is County Road 211. A main thoroughfare from Coffeeville to Oakland, Harris has stressed in multiple meetings that the road is already dangerous and continues to deteriorate.
“I think in the last meeting we talked about (County Road) 211 versus some bridges,” Board President Cayce Washington said as the discussion opened Monday.
“Of course we have way more need than we have money, so one option is to finish 211. We ran some numbers and it is basically a $950,000 project,” County Engineer Karl Grubb explained.
The engineer also cited another bridge on County Road 212 coming out of Coffeeville as an option for the remaining State Aid money, estimating the replacement cost at approximately one million dollars. Grubb explained the bridge is rated for low weight traffic only; but he also noted another two nearby bridges located on 212 are similarly rated for low weight traffic only.
“If you replace that bridge, you still have a route that has a 17-ton posted weight,” the engineer explained about the portion of County Road 212. “The 212 (bridge) is affecting the heavy trucks. The cars and the people commuting back and forth to work are not a problem. As long as we can keep the heavy trucks off of 212, then it shouldn’t be closed anytime in the near future.”
The engineer explained there is a possibility of a second round of funding that could be allocated through the state’s Emergency Road and Bridge Repair Fund (ERBRF) which could be used for the low weight bridges on County Road 212. The Mississippi Legislature established the ERBRF during the 2018 Extraordinary Session to revitalize public roads and bridges across the state, borrowing $250 million to fund projects in the first round.
“If the legislature comes through and gives you bridge funding and you have already spent your (State Aid) money on that bridge, then that is money that you have lost,” Grubb explained about losing funding is there is a second round of ERBRF money because the bridges will already be replaced from State Aid money. “But that is all what-ifs; we don’t know what is going to happen,” he added. “212 would be a good project because they are going to look at State Aid routes that have a lot of traffic on it that have posted (weight), critical bridges for funding. State Aid routes that have a bad bridge will get top priority.”
Grubb also noted that if the ERBRF program falls apart and something happens to the bridge on 212, forcing it to be closed, supervisors could also utilize a temporary repair.
“With the drainage area, you could put a tanker in temporarily,” Grubb explained about utilizing a railroad tanker as a culvert for low weight traffic if there is an emergency.
Supervisor Washington ultimately made the move to forgo the bridge on 212 to allow the resurfacing on 211.
“It is in my district,” Washington explained about the bridge on 212. “It is a tough decision to make. It sounds terrible to my constituency that I would say to forfeit fixing a bridge in our district. I would like to get the bridge fixed, but we still have the two a big truck can’t pass over,” he explained. “I would rather hold out and see if we could get some ERBRF money to fix all three.”
Harris also noted that the county has another funding option if an emergency bridge repair is needed.
“Gaylon made a point the other day, if one of these bridges goes down, we have that TCE money if push comes to shove,” Harris noted, a reference to proceeds from a settlement in an environmental lawsuit filed by Yalobusha County and Yalobusha General Hospital. Although the terms of the settlement were confidential, the amount received by the county became public in January, 2020, when supervisors to disperse $500,000 to road funds and bank another $2.5 million from the proceeds.
The lawsuit stemmed from a contaminate, TCE, that was released into the environment from 1973 to 1987 by the Holley Automotive Division of Colt Industries. Much of the contaminated property listed in the lawsuit that sustained damages is owned by the hospital, but the hospital is county-owned and the proceeds from the settlement went directly to the county coffers.
In October, supervisors agreed to allow the hospital to use approximately $132,000 from the lawsuit proceeds to fund a portion of the expense to replace boilers that provide heat and hot water at the hospital. During that same meeting, supervisors also agreed to provide the TCE money to the hospital in the future on a case-by-case basis for capital improvement projects.
The TCE settlement money has also been identified as a potential funding source for a portion of the cost for the Gum’s Crossing bridge.