Legislators’ Neglect Impairing Highway System

Competent leaders seeking to sustain quality of life and spur economic growth appreciate the importance of physical infrastructure.

The American Society of Civil Engineers grades physical infrastructure in each state annually. In 2012, Mississippi grades were:  Dams and levees – D; Drinking water – C-; Roads and bridges – C; Wastewater – C.

Hold on, a C in roads and bridges?

Why, it was just two years ago that Blueprint Mississippi touted Mississippi’s highway system as number one in the Mid-South: “The success of Mississippi’s roadways system is due in part to Mississippi’s Four-Lane Highway Program, which was enacted in 1987 to provide intrastate mobility.” That status was based on a report looking at the period 1984 – 2008.

What has happened since 2008 to turn things around?

The civil engineers’ report said “Recent MDOT studies show only 51% of the necessary revenue is available to maintain Mississippi’s road and bridge system.”

“There is a serious threat to the State’s economy and the residents’ livelihood,” continued the report. “If funding levels are not addressed in the very near future, roads and bridges as well as jobs and population centers will see a decline.”

Legislative studies agreed.

A PEER Committee report in January said, “Studies show that the funding available for transportation is not sufficient to meet Mississippi’s highway, road, and bridge needs.”

PEER said MDOT needs $1 billion to repair pavement to an acceptable condition and $400 million annually to maintain pavement in good condition, but only gets about $150 million annually. PEER said MDOT needs $2.7 billion to repair or replace bridges and $200 million to replace all currently deficient bridges in a timely manner, but only gets $50 to $80 million annually.

A special Senate task force headed by Senator Willie Simmons, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, also found funding to be inadequate. “We found information that supports the need to improve our roads and bridges, and we also found the need for more funds,” Simmons told the Daily Journal’s Bobby Harrison after the task force’s final meeting in January.

Given this serious state of affairs, what did our legislators do?

Find ways to significantly increase MDOT funding?

No. They continued to ignore and neglect mounting road and bridge needs.

The bills they considered provided only minimal increases. But, even those did not pass. They died over a silly spat between House and Senate leaders over prioritization of road projects.

A commonsensical Governor Phil Bryant saved the day by adding MDOT funding to the special session he called to fund new assistant district attorneys. Legislators finally agreed to fund MDOT with a 2.5% increase, far below the established need.

“Competent” would not be the right word to describe leaders able to turn a Mississippi infrastructure strength into a weakness so quickly.

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