Mississippi governor Phil Bryant issued an emergency declaration this week, ordering the closure of at least 102 locally maintained bridges in his state due to safety concerns.
The move was prompted by Bryant receiving a letter on April 5 from the acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, Brandye Hendrickson. In the letter, Hendrickson warned that the bridges must be closed or the administration would "be compelled to follow-up with consequential actions."
According to the US Department of Transportation, Mississippi was the only state to receive such a letter.
In Bryant's order, he stated that the bridges "create extreme peril to the safety of persons and property." The Mississippi Department of Transportation is authorized to implement the closures, and its executive director praised the governor's actions, saying: "MDOT is thankful for the governor's strong support of public safety while protecting federal transportation funds that come into the state. The state and MDOT cannot afford to lose any money for roads and bridges."
After determining that Mississippi's Office of State Aid Road Construction wasn't providing enough oversight on county and municipal bridge inspections, the Federal Highway Admininstration stepped in to force examination of the structures.
While Mississippi lawmakers have been hesitant to raise taxes for such repairs, many have been holding out to see if President Trump's anticipated infrastructure plan might provide a lifeline.
The administration unveiled a proposal in February which outlined goals for generating $1.5 trillion in funding for infrastructure, reducing the permit approval process, advancing workforce training and investing in rural infrastructure.
Last month, a federal law was passed to provide $600 million in federal funds for rural broadband, but garnering consensus for a more expansive infrastructure plan has not only been difficult due to political differences (both between and within political parties) — determining where the money will come from is a major hurdle.
Sue Miller, a Freeborn County highway engineer in Minnesota summed up the issue, saying: "The funny thing about transportation is all the Republicans, all the Democrats, whoever is the president, they all agree that we need a good, sound transportation network. They all have great plans of what they want that transportation plan to look like — where we always fall apart is how are we going to fund it. How are we going to pay for it?"