3Q's: Mike Tagert, Northern District Transportation Commissioner

Northern District Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert of Starkville is a member of the three-member state Transportation Commission, the independent governing board of the Department of Transportation. Tagert, elected earlier this year to fulfill the unexpired term of the late Commissioner Bill Minor, answered these questions last week from the Daily Journal’s Joe Rutherford.
Q: Now that Highway 9′s contract has been let and the construction schedule is set, how quickly do you think the new highway will have an impact once it’s opened in late 2012?
A: The new highway is already having an impact before the first shovel hits the dirt. I see Highway 9 as an investment in the future of North Mississippi. It’s not just about the Toyota plant and the impact it will make on the economy, but it’s also about the suppliers and other businesses that will open across the region in the months and years to come. Once Highway 9 is completed, all types of businesses will have four-lane access to U.S. 45; U.S. 78/I-22; state Highway 6 and I-55 at Batesville.
The future four-laning of Highway 15 will carry it on through Tippah, Union, Pontotoc and Chickasaw counties – in effect, spreading the “opportunities” throughout the region.
Q: High interest continues in other routes designated for four-laning under Vision 21. Do you foresee a bond issue that would allow an accelerated design and construction contract on, for example, Highway 15 beyond the funds already secured and contracts let or anticipated?
A: MDOT continually seeks legislative support for bonds that can be utilized to meet the critical transportation infrastructure needs of the state. Over the years, the Legislature has authorized the issuance of state of Mississippi general obligation bonds for Vision 21 projects. Most recently, in 2010, the Legislature approved the issuance of $90 million in bonds for Highway 9, which is a Vision 21 project; at the same time, it approved $50 million in bonds for other Vision 21 projects. One Vision 21 project receiving funds from these bonds is Highway 15 in Union County from the Tippah County line traveling south approximately six miles, reconstructing to four lanes. Another Vision 21 project receiving funds from these bonds is Highway 45 in Lowndes County, reconstructing to four lanes.
Q: Where in our region do you foresee new or changed highway construction needs or priorities?
A: We are seeing a shift in priorities from construction to maintenance of our existing system. This is due to a lack of funding for new construction and an aging transportation system. It’s like buying a new car and never changing the oil or having the engine tuned. We can’t keep adding capacity to our existing infrastructure with no provisions for preventive maintenance. The 1987 Four-Lane Highway Program was very successful as a pay-as-you-go program, but there was no funding mechanism built in to provide for maintenance. Some of those highways are now 15-20 years old, and we are tasked with finding the state funds to rehab them. Maintenance is key to the future of our system.

NEMS Daily Journal