OUR OPINION: Competition's good, but so is adequate funding

Mississippi towns and cities have depended for a long time on receiving funds for street-related infrastructure improvements from the Surface Transportation Program, a federal allocation, but new rules change expectations for receiving the money because applications have become competitive.
The idea that an applying municipality, regardless of population, should thoroughly and factually make its case for the funds is fair – and in the context of national austerity, necessary.
The STP funds also have a requirement for a 20 percent local match, which squeezes some municipalities, but also reflects the constraints under which federal lawmakers must operate.
The STP program nationwide is large, about $6.5 billion, and it is apportioned to the state departments of transportation by a statutory formula.
The federal share is generally 80 percent, subject to a sliding scale adjustment. When the funds are used for interstate projects to add high occupancy vehicle or auxiliary lanes, but not other lanes, the federal share may be 90 percent, also subject to the sliding scale adjustment.
Tupelo has submitted an application for $1 million from the fund – part to resurface portions of Eason Boulevard and part to build new sidewalks to make pedestrians safer along busy thoroughfares.
Automatic allocation will become a thing of the past. Every town and city will be required to apply for and justify its expectations, and then a decision will be made by official evaluators.
Municipalities failing to apply will not receive funds.
“Historically, we used to give everybody a small piece of the pie based on their population, so a small town would get $80,000, and you can’t do anything with that,” said Randy Battey, MDOT’s assistant chief engineer over operations, in an earlier Daily Journal article.
Tupelo used to get about $1.2 million every year from the program, and it still could approach that funding level, not as an “entitlement,” but as an affirmation of a carefully justified application.
The larger picture is problematic. The federal source of STP funds expires this month, and a coalition – diverse and bipartisan – is pushing hard to craft a new law that would generate more jobs and more work.
Northern District Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert said Wednesday he believes a four-month continuing resolution will pass this fall, with work on a new bill after Jan. 1.
Tagert said decreasing surface transportation funding doesn’t make sense in light of the need for jobs growth.
The nation needs a new bill that’s written for immediate impact.
The STP has existed on temporary extensions; long term action is required.

NEMS Daily Journal