Condition of Freetown bridge called unacceptable’

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 23, 2004

Harold Simpson stands beside a bridge on Freetown Road over Clear Creek that was replaced near his home Wednesday. (Meredith Spencer The Vicksburg Post)

[9/23/04]The bridge on Freetown Road over Clear Creek is substantially finished, but at least one resident of the area is even more tired of excuses.

The bridge, located on a Warren County road northeast of Vicksburg, has been a focal point of frustration since it collapsed in the wake of a thunderstorm on April 6, 2003, that dumped 8.31 inches of rain on the area.

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Although Warren County supervisors declared the situation an emergency to speed repairs, it has taken nearly 18 months to get the span replaced, leaving residents to drive long detours.

“All they’ve got left to do is put in the guard rails and lay some gravel,” said District 1 Supervisor David McDonald who has been taking criticism.

“They have (only) dirt on each end,” said area resident Harold Simpson. “That’s unacceptable.”

The initial delay in getting the replacement work started was attributed to an error by federal highway officials. Supervisors originally had documents and plans drawn to specifications required to take advantage of federal money available for such repairs. As those plans neared completion, federal officials said the project could not use federal money and that forced the county to redraw documents and plans to fit the requirements of the State Aid Division of the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

A further delay arose when the error was discovered and the plans had to be redrawn to federal requirements again.

Key Constructors of Madison finally got the contract in December with a bid of $424,397.28. Actual work began in late March or early April with the contractor allowed 180 working days, not calendar days, to complete the work.

In July, McDonald said work was going well and Key had installed about two-thirds of the decking of the poured-in-place bridge.

At that time, Simpson, who lives at 4430 Freetown Road, said seeing only intermittent work was frustrating.

Freetown extends past the Culkin Road junction with Oak Ridge Road and without the bridge, residents must loop far north to commute to Vicksburg.

McDonald said Wednesday that Key still has time left on its contract. And, he said, although the guard rails are not included on other rural bridges, they are part of the federal design and should take a day or so to install.

He also said the dirt and gravel approaches will remain for the time being. Since part of the cost of the project comes from Local Service Bridge Project funds, paving could not be included in the contract to replace the bridge, he said, adding supervisors may decide to add the work to paving projects that will be advertised in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

As an example of the frustration, however, McDonald said that though the bridge is not officially open, it has been put in service by motorists anyway.

“They just moved the barricades and started using it,” he said.