By Bobby Harrison

Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency Tuesday, ordering the Mississippi Department of Transportation to ensure the immediate closure of 83 locally owned bridges across the state.

The only county in Northeast Mississippi impacted by the emergency order is Itawamba.

The governor said the bridges are being closed because they had been deemed unsafe. They will remain closed until they meet safety regulations.

"Keeping them open constitutes an unnecessary risk to public safety, violates the corrective action plan agreed upon by the state and federal government and jeopardizes federal infrastructure funds Mississippi receives," the governor said in a news release.

The locally owned bridges with timber substructure were among those that the Federal Highway Adminstration determined should be independently inspected by the state Department of Transportation to ensure their safety.

That process began in November 2016 and resulted in the identification of 378 unsafe bridges across the state. In March, federal officials identified that some of those bridges remained open, but had not been repaired.

That discovery resulted in an April 5 letter from Brandye Hendrickson, the acting administrator of the Federal Highway Adminstration, to the governor stating, "Because of the severity of the issue and the urgency to ensure locally owned bridges are safe to the traveling public" federal officials "will be compelled to followup with consequential actions if no appropriate actions are taken to address the unsafe bridge situation."

Inaction could have resulted in the loss of federal funds.

The Legislature has been grappling with how to deal with a deteriorating transportation system on both the state and local levels. The 2018 session ended in March with legislators unable to agree on a plan to provide additional funds for transportation.

The governor has indicated he might call a special session to address the issue.

In addition to Itawamba, the bridges ordered to be closed are in the counties of Amite, Carroll, Clarke, Greene, Hinds, Humphreys, Jasper, Jones, Lauderdale, Leake, Lincoln, Newton, Pike, Smith and Wayne.

(c)2018 the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.)