Mississippi needs a plan to fix roads

There are some roads in Mississippi that could use some work.
There are some roads in Mississippi that could use some work. Sun Herald

The Mississippi Department of Transportation has some work to do.

When discussing the $158 million road that never was, an MDOT official made a startling revelation.

“We’ve kind of become a maintenance organization,” said Mark McConnell, MDOT’s chief engineer. “We’re trying to preserve what we have — our bridges and our pavement. Any kind of new construction is difficult to find the funding for.”

He expounds on that statement below.

It’s not surprising the road that was supposed to connect Interstate 10 to the Port of Gulfport has yet to be built, given the opposition.

Former Mayor Brent Warr once vowed he’d stand in front of bulldozers to keep an elevated road out of Gulfport.

People who lived in the neighborhood that would be home to the new road sued.

At one time, the road was supposed to be built all the way to Wiggins, parallel to U.S. 49.

Transportation Commissioner Tom King said the road would be built, though he offered no firm timetable nor details of what it would cost and where the money would come from.

A forum written by King appears on page 3C.

Our question is, if MDOT is so underfunded why is it so insistent on building a road the port may not need, given the port seems to be shifting away from the container-cargo business that would use the road?

A growing number of people believe there is money to be saved at MDOT.

We’re inclined to agree.

This year, the Legislature appropriated $1.3 billion for the department for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Of that, $930,412,115 was appropriated for construction and $216,000,000 was appropriated for maintenance.

MDOT knows roads and bridges are a problem.

It has prepared a fact card making its case for increased funding.

On it MDOT notes the gas tax, its largest source of local funding, hasn’t been increased since 1987.

And more than half its money comes from the federal government, which means it’s subject to the whims of Congress.

MDOT says without a significant increase in funding, the condition of roads will continue to decline, more bridges will become structurally deficient and drivers will face increased delays because of congestion.

It’s the same case the state chamber of commerce made before and during the last legislative session.

MDOT also points to a cost-effectiveness study, which ranks the state No. 8 in the nation in maintenance expenditures per mile, as proof it is being a good steward of taxpayer money.

State leaders have promised a study group will look at taxes and the state budget and come up with recommendations for the 2017 legislative session.

Those recommendations should include a detailed plan for keeping our highways among the best in the nation and expanding the highway system to keep up with the economic growth our leaders have promised.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.

McConnell’s statement

Mark McConnell, chief engineer and deputy director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation, explains why MDOT has become a maintenance organization:

“Since the four-lane highway program was developed in 1987 by the Mississippi Legislature, the cost of system preservation has increased 300 percent. As a result of that increase in pricing and only small boosts in federal and state revenue for years, MDOT’s funds today are primarily allocated to system preservation, which means utilizing existing tax payer dollars in the most efficient way to maintain the state’s current highway infrastructure. For example, adding a lane to an existing highway to correct a documented safety issue is not adding new capacity to our aging infrastructure; this is system preservation. While MDOT is utilizing the funding appropriated to meet the state-owned transportation system’s greatest needs, MDOT continues to repair roadways and replace bridges to minimum passing levels, which is also system preservation, but are left without funds to grow the system with new capacity or construction. Additional projects to add capacity or new construction to the infrastructure network that will stimulate the economy, such as a four-lane facility from Jackson to the Gulf Coast, have been delayed as a result of the need to maintain and preserve the state’s existing infrastructure.”