By NEMS Daily Journal
Bill Miles of Fulton is a former member of the Mississippi House and former chair of the House Transportation Committee. Before running for office, Miles worked as a political consultant for several north Mississippi politicians, including former Transportation Commissioner Zack Stewart.
North Mississippians will go to the polls on Jan. 11 to elect a new Transportation commissioner to replace incumbent Bill Minor, who died in November. Miles recently answered three questions about the post.
Q: What makes the Transportation Commission seat such an important position?
A: The Transportation Commission is vital because its members set policy which is implemented by professionals based upon legislative and constitutional mandates. Even though commissioners are elected by districts, they have statewide responsibilities. They should be the pacesetters for transportation and its various components including, roads, bridges highway safety, rail, airports and, to some extent, ports.
Q: What are the top two or three short-term challenges? Long term?
A: Major short-term challenges, in my opinion, can be summed up in two areas: one, keeping the ’87 Highway Program as modified under Vision 21 moving toward four-laning the priority roads and, two, maintaining existing highways. Maintenance of existing highways often is lost in the appropriations process because everyone wants a four-lane road to get to his house.
Long term simply is an extension of the other two which is easily summed up in financing.
New and better roads will suffer as long as dedicated user funds, 18.4 cents a gallon, paid at the gasoline pump are raided for other state expenditures having nothing to do with transportation.
Dependable long-term financing that allows our “pay as they are built” projects to proceed will do as much for our economy during the construction phase as any so-called stimulus.
What kind of chance would Mississippi have had at attracting Nissan to Canton or Toyota to Blue Springs without a four-lane highway serving the areas?
Q: In your experience, what qualities make for an effective Transportation commissioner?
A: Transportation commissioners must be visionaries who have a realization of the importance of moving people and commodities in a safe and efficient manner. Economic development will go to the region where these services are provided.
The real challenge for policy makers is to rise above what might be expedient to get votes. That means making some tough decisions and letting the professionals be independent enough to do their jobs.
Protecting transportation dollars is key for a commissioner. MDOT has lost hundreds of millions of dollars from its special fund distinction to the state’s general fund in recent years. That’s the major reason priority roads are way behind schedule.