DENNIS SEID: Improving, maintaining roads should be priority

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

How many times have you driven a stretch of highway wondering why it isn’t in better shape?
There are the chunks missing from the road, the cracks in the pavement, the grooves worn in by those big trucks.
And if you don’t have a good set of tires, those grooves become dangerous hydroplaning opportunities when it rains.
To be sure, the state’s four-laning program that started in 1987 was a fantastic piece of legislation that helped connect the state.
In one study, by the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Mississippi’s highways were rated the best in the Southeast.
And Mississippi’s bridges? That’s another problem area.
According to Transportation for America, Mississippi is ranked 11th in percentage of deficient bridges.
With more than 17,000 bridges, the state has more than 2,400, or 14.2 percent rated as deficient.
The average age of bridges in the Magnolia State is 33 years old, while the average age of deficient bridges is 45.
The good news is that the state had 299 fewer deficient bridges last year compared to 2011.
But back to road conditions in Mississippi.
According to national transportation study group TRIP, 28 percent of the state’s major roads are in poor or moderate condition.
“Driving on roads in need of repairs costs Mississippi motorists $627 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs – $326 per person.”
By the way, TRIP says 22 percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
The obvious way to fix some of these issues is money.
And that’s the stopping point for many people, especially politicians who are loathe to talk about dollars and sense.
But just as it takes money for you and me to maintain our homes, cars and bodies, it takes money to maintain our state’s roads and bridges.
That 18.8-cents gasoline tax we’ve had for 26 years just isn’t cutting it anymore. It’s true – a dollar doesn’t buy what it used to.
I know the arguments against raising the gas tax: Gas is expensive enough, we’re taxed too much already, government needs to do more with less.
With gas demand falling, the revenue generated by the gas tax also shrinks.
But our roads and bridges still are being used.
Infrastructure is critically important to community and economic development. It’s not wasteful spending, it’s an investment. The sooner we look at the big picture, the better.
If there’s a better funding mechanism, then let’s find it.
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@journalinc.com.