Leadership Crumbling along with Highways and Bridges

“Somebody’s going to be killed,” Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall stressed to the Clarion-Ledger, pointing to a study that shows Mississippi has 2,275 structurally deficient bridges. “That’s what’s going to happen.”

The huge tax cut wind howling out of the State Capitol just flicked his spittle back at him.

For several years, Hall has been clamoring about Mississippi’s deteriorating highways and bridges. That’s because studies show approximately 25% of Mississippi’s 29,000 miles of state highways need immediate attention, in addition to the bridge crisis. Since it will take big money and new revenue to fix things, the Legislature doesn’t seem to hear him.

Well, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said legislators are aware of the problem. He said they await results from a study by the Mississippi Economic Council. But, that business-led study won’t issue recommendations until after this Legislature adjourns.

Curiously, legislators already have in hand a current study from their own PEER Committee (report #581 dated January 6, 2014) that says:

“Studies show that the funding available for transportation is not sufficient to meet Mississippi’s highway, road, and bridge needs.”

It gets specific:

“MDOT allocates approximately $150 million annually to pavement projects, but estimates that an estimated $1 billion would be needed to repair pavement to an acceptable condition and $400 million would be needed annually to maintain pavement in good condition.”

“MDOT allocates from $50 million to $80 million annually to bridge projects, but estimates that $2.7 billion would be needed to repair or replace bridges and $200 million annually would enable replacement of all currently deficient bridges in a timely manner and guarantee maintenance and repair of all bridges in the state system.”

Oh, my bad. I get it.

The Legislature doesn’t need a study to learn our transportation infrastructure needs fixing, they need the cover of a business-led study to tell them how to pay for fixing it…after elections are over.

Meanwhile, legislators have worked on a temporary patch for the bridge problem. The Clarion-Ledger reported the House passed a $400 million bond bill for bridge work. To pay for the bonds, though, they want to use money already committed to road projects in casino counties (part of those casino taxes we approved to help fund education, remember?).

In 1987, another election year, business leaders championed a major, four-lane highway program and higher gas taxes to pay for it. I was a first-term Republican serving in the House with three-term veteran Dick Hall. Despite the bad political timing, we joined other conservative legislators behind the leadership of Rep. John Pennebaker to not only pass the program, but also to override a veto from Gov. Bill Allain.

Legislative and business leaders cringing from gas tax increases in an election year reveals highways and bridges aren’t the only things crumbling.

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