Panel told rural roads hinder agriculture in state

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The state’s poor infrastructure is beginning to negatively impact farmers, a Senate Transportation task force was told Thursday.
Mark Leggett, president of the Mississippi Poultry Association and a representative for all agriculture interests on the task force, said Thursday that “detours of 10 or 20 miles are not unusual” because of poor rural bridges for trucks hauling ag products. He said that increases costs and puts Mississippi and its farmers at a disadvantage.
Much of the focus of the task force has been on the fact that the state is struggling with the funds to maintain its existing highway system and develop new four-lane corridors. But on Thursday, much of the emphasis was placed on local governments, both city and county.
Pelahatchie Mayor Knox Ross, speaking for the Mississippi Municipal League, told the task force that since 1987, maintenance costs for roadways have risen 128 percent while the revenue generated by an 18.4-cent per-gallon tax on motor fuel, including the portion directed toward municipalities, has remained flat. He said municipalities cannot get the money needed for street repairs from increases in local property taxes.
Some members of the task force, such as Senate Transportation Chair Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, is hoping to garner business support for a tax increase and generate additional funds for infrastructure needs.
“We need to look at what is best for the state of Mississippi – what we need to do in terms of economic development and public safety,” Simmons said Thursday at the end of two days of hearings at the state Capitol and as he announced plans for additional hearings in August. The panel is supposed to provide recommendations later this year.
Based on votes of members Thursday on various scenarios, it appears the task force wants to make it a priority to upgrade or fix existing infrastructure instead of developing new highway projects. The final results of the survey of the task force members will be compiled and released at the August meetings.
According to research compiled by the Legislature’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee, there are 1,054 bridges in the state that have been posted as being substandard or are closed. PEER added that $50 million is spent annually on bridge replacement, but $200 million is needed.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com