A new Merrill bridge, which likely will never be built may still cost the County nearly $200,000.
County engineer Michael Brown broke the bad news to the George County Board of Supervisors during Monday’s board meeting. Brown explained the county was obligated to repay nearly $200,000 in Emergency Road and Bridge Funds money spent for preliminary work in nailing down a contract to build a new, modern bridge across the Pascagoula River at Merrill. That money was spent on engineering fees, property appraisals and other fees associated with getting the project underway.
The existing 828 foot through truss bridge, constructed in 1928, was closed to all traffic following a state bridge inspection in 2012. Grant funds to repair the bridge so it would be safe for light traffic were finally obtained in 2018, and Vice Construction did the repair work. The repairs were seen as a temporary fix with MDOT requested plans for a new bridge be drawn up as well. The old bridge still has not been approved for reopening by MDOT.
Federal bridge inspections conducted in the past five years found hundreds of bridges across Mississippi were unsafe and either needed to be repaired or closed. In 2018, the state legislature appropriated $250 million for an Emergency Road and Bridge Fund. Six hundred and ninety applications totaling about a billion dollars were submitted to MDOT. Of those, 163 projects were approved by the Mississippi Transportation Commission last January. One of those approved was a new Merrill Bridge at an estimated cost of $8.5 million, based on engineering estimates.
Bids for building the new bridge were solicited in late 2019. They came in at nearly double the engineer’s estimate. Bids received ranged between $13.5 million and $15 million, a price tag simply out of range for the county.
A second round of bidding earlier this year produced bids of between $11.1 million and $13.5 million, still too high to be affordable to the County.
“I wish them luck on collecting it,” an exasperated Dist. Four Supervisor Larry Havard told Brown. “You can stick a fork in me, I am done. I said after the first round of bidding that I was through and I don’t have the money.”
The Merrill bridge is in Dist. Four.
Each district is allocated money to be spent on roads and bridges in that district. Havard said if he has to repay that money out of his district funds, there are other projects he will not be able to complete.
Havard and county engineers are to participate in a Zoom conference later this week with state officials to discuss the matter further.