|This is a press release from the Mississippi Department of Transportation
HATTIESBURG, Miss. - Today’s underfunding of Mississippi’s transportation system is leading to the crumbling of the state’s roads and bridges. This is no longer only a road and bridge problem but an issue affecting economic development and community growth throughout the state.
“The current level of funding means the state-owned rural highway system will continue to be neglected,” said Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) Executive Director Melinda McGrath. “In order to save Mississippi’s transportation system, action must be taken today. There has been no significant change in state revenue for roads and bridges since 1987.This has caused many Mississippi highways to crumble past the point of repair, and they now require complete rehabilitation.”
The deterioration of the state’s highway network is most noticeable along rural routes. Roads and bridges in these areas are passable, but the condition is poor. The longer these rural roads continue to be ignored, the worse the situation will become, and the more money it will cost the taxpayers of Mississippi to fix.
There have been recent discussions by legislators to cut MDOT’s budget by $50 million and give that portion to the counties and municipalities.
Unfunded projects are a public safety issue. Last year, 677 Mississippians were killed on the state’s roadways. As road conditions continue to decrease, the safety risk to the traveling public continues to rise.
“At the request of Legislative leadership, MDOT provided a list of transfers that fund non-highway programs at other state and local agencies totaling $50 million,” said Transportation Commissioner Tom King. "These non-highway programs are mandated, but unfunded, and must be paid out of MDOT’s budget. If MDOT could use these funds on highways, an immediate increase of $50 million would be spent on state-owned rural roads.”
MDOT’s budget request for FY 2017 was $1.2 billion. After federal dollars, including local match funds and project specific revenue bonds, are removed from MDOT’s budget, $300 million remains for operational costs to meet state and federal regulations and maintain highways in a state of good repair for the traveling public.
“This $300 million is used for daily operational expenses,” McGrath said. “This includes $200 million the state spends on routine maintenance for patching potholes, repairing roadway slides, repairing bridges and clearing roadways after emergencies as first responders, just to name a few.”
In the mid-1900s, county roads were given to the state creating a paved network of farm to market routes, many of which are still in use today. Because Mississippi is primarily an agricultural state, these rural corridors are vital to economic development. These roads continue to be neglected, because the majority of today’s state transportation funding goes toward the preservation of major infrastructure routes – interstate and four-lane highways. These routes carry the majority of general statewide and commercial traffic.
“MDOT maintains 30,000 highway miles, and 11,000 miles need to be repaired or replaced,” McGrath said. “And, approximately 900 of the 5,700 bridges MDOT maintains need to be reconstructed, because they have restrictions that hinder commercial traffic."
Many bridges in rural areas are more than 60 years old and were built using timber pilings. Over time, timber pilings rot due to weathering and age. This natural process weakens the bridge structure. As these pilings fail, the maximum weight allowed on the bridge is reduced, or the bridge is closed to traffic.
“MDOT is utilizing its funding to meet the state-owned transportation system’s greatest needs; however, the condition of roads continues to deteriorate faster than the state has the funding to improve them,” McGrath said. “During our most recent legislative information request, MDOT produced research information indicating an additional $400 million annually for 10 to 15 years is needed to halt the deterioration and restore the state-owned highway system for Mississippi to remain economically competitive and reduce fatalities."
Unless additional funding is secured, numerous paving, bridge and capacity upgrade projects across South Mississippi will not be constructed.
"If funded, these projects will connect major routes in rural areas while repairing deficient bridges,” King said.
For example, there is a need to four-lane a section of Highway 24 from East Fork to Interstate 55 in Pike and Amite counties. Sixty percent of the right of way has been purchased, and plans are being finalized.
Highway 35 in Smith County, a major agricultural route that connects Highway 49 to Interstate 20, has critical rutting issues from the Covington County Line to Raleigh and needs to be repaved. Highway 84 from Eddiceton to the Lincoln County Line is a major trucking and agricultural route that connects I-55 to the Mississippi River, and needs to be repaved.
Without additional funding, these projects will not move forward. This will ultimately result in businesses and industries not locating to an area with poor road conditions.
Without additional funding, State Route 57 in Jackson County will not receive repairs needed to improve its capacity from Interstate 10 through Vancleave. Only utility work and minimal right of way relocation is needed before construction begins.
A bridge on State Route 26 in George County, a major agricultural corridor, needs to be replaced. Highway 11 from Industrial Park Road to the Jasper County Line is a major logging and agriculture corridor in need of paving.
These projects would not only improve safety for the traveling public but significantly advance economic development for the state. These areas of South Mississippi will not grow until the roads are expanded to attract commerce.
“These projects and more than 207 others in Districts 6 and 7 will do more than just make people’s drives safer and more convenient,” King said. “Particularly in rural areas, these projects will connect communities and stimulate economic growth and development throughout the region.”
In 1987, the Mississippi Legislature passed an unprecedented $1.6 billion long-range highway bill, commonly known as the “1987 Highway Program.” At the time, it was one of the most comprehensive in the country and called for the construction of over 1,000 miles of four-lane highways across the state. It also established a funding mechanism for construction in the form of an 18.4 cent per gallon fuel tax.
Unfortunately, the “1987 Highway Program” did not address funding needs to preserve Mississippi’s highway system into the future or account for inflation in the construction of additional roadways. Over the past 30 years, rising construction costs with no increases in funding has forced MDOT to shift to a maintenance only approach and focus on system preservation.
“Rising construction costs and aging infrastructure means MDOT will not be able to maintain the current condition of the system or build any new lanes or roadways,” King said. “Without an increased investment in transportation, the majority of funds will be utilized to repair existing infrastructure and address safety projects while delaying projects that would repair aging infrastructure in rural areas, add capacity to the transportation network and stimulate the state’s economy.”
For a list of all the unfunded projects in Mississippi by district and by county, a map of the unfunded projects, and a reference map of the districts, visit GoMDOT.com/betterfundingbetterroads.