Supervisors vote against opening bridge for emergencies

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 12, 2000

A week after a wreck stalled westbound Interstate 20 traffic across the Mississippi River for more than three hours, three members of the Warren County Board of Supervisors said no to making the county’s bridge available in such situations.

District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon asked the five-member panel to consider a motion to make the roadway of the parallel span available.

“I’m only talking about emergency traffic that may occur once every six months,” Selmon said.

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His proposal was seconded by District 2 Supervisor Michael Mayfield, but the majority agreed with District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale, who said putting emergency traffic on the bridge should wait until all repairs are made.

“Whether you’ve got emergency traffic or full-time traffic, you have to repair the roadway first,” Lauderdale said.

Officials shut down the I-20 bridge’s westbound lanes Dec. 6 after an empty milk tanker traveling from Kosciusko to Texas crashed into the guardrail, puncturing the gas tanks and spilling diesel fuel. Traffic was at a standstill from about 2 p.m. until nearly 6 p.m.

Interstate motorists were backed up to about seven miles east of the bridge and at least three other non-injury wrecks associated with the tie-up were reported. Police issued several tickets to drivers illegally crossing the median and going the wrong way on interstate entrance ramps.

Other than the U.S. 80 bridge in Vicksburg, the nearest routes across the river are 74 miles south in Natchez or 101 miles north in Greenville.

“You have to look at it in more than one way,” Mayfield said after the meeting. “What if we’re put in a situation where we have to get people out of the immediate area?”

The county-owned bridge’s roadway has been closed since September 1998 when county officials said the concrete was failing. Since then, the county has faced criticism for inaction, especially when events have closed the I-20 crossing.

But District 5 Supervisor Richard George said there’s danger in opening the old roadway to cars, period. “The people are not used to negotiating a bridge like that,” George said. Interstate travelers accustomed to going 70 mph would not be able to safely traverse the 18-foot wide roadway of the 70-year-old bridge. The 27-year-old I-20 bridge is 65 feet wide.

“Our tax base is a little bit small to be providing the United States with interstate traffic,” George said.

According to the most recent estimates from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, about 23,000 cars and trucks crossed the river on the I-20 bridge daily in 1999.

District 1 Supervisor David McDonald also voted against the motion to open the bridge for emergency traffic.

“For us to do something until these studies are completed would be a mistake,” McDonald said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a study in February to determine the cause of movement in one of the piers. That study was expected to take a year.

No injuries were reported in the wreck last week and eastbound traffic was not affected.

In other matters the board of supervisors:

Authorized advertisement for phase II of the LeTourneau boat ramp project.

Approved the appointment of Larry Chisley as deputy coroner.

Supervisors will meet again at 9 a.m. Monday at the courthouse.