By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The Mississippi Department of Transportation wanted input Tuesday on its priorities for the next quarter-century, but few showed up to give their opinions.
MDOT personnel outnumbered residents who signed in at the come-and-go meeting at the Oxford Conference Center, but officials hope for a better turnout today at a similar meeting in Jackson – the final meeting in a series of reviews for Mississippi’s Unified Long-range Transportation Infrastructure (MULTI) Plan.
The need for public input is critical, MDOT leaders say.
“We have about $900 million in highway and bridge needs, to keep the system in good shape,” said Jeff Pierce, MDOT’s state planning engineer. “We have about $550 million to work with, so we have a $350 million-per-year funding gap, so that’s going to make us make decisions on what things get the priority spending.”
The draft MULTI plan identifies 10 corridors as priorities.
“Our number one priority will be the roads that really help the economic development of the state and keep our economy going,” Pierce said. “These are not just highway corridors; most of them have a railway beside them, and a lot of them go to ports. It’s all the interstates, along with 78, which is going to be an interstate, and 49 South, which has a ton of truck traffic.”
What MDOT officials want the public’s ideas on is how to maintain highways in areas away from these corridors on far less funding than was available in previous years.
“How do we address these issues out here when there’s just not funding to do everything?” Pierce asked. “We talk about increasing the gas tax, but that’s not going to happen. The gas tax is not a great way to fund highways anymore because of the changeover to ethanol, which is not taxed, and hybrid electric cars.”
“It’s a scary thing,” said MDOT District 1 Engineer Bill Jamieson. “Gas costs more, so people buy less. Our costs keep going up, but the revenue goes down.”
Send suggestions to P.O. Box 1850, Jackson, MS 39215; visit www. gomdot.com/Home/AboutMDOT/ EmailUs.aspx; or call (601) 359-7001.
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or email@example.com.