Study highlights state’s transportation needs

djournal-state-news-mississippi

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – A national transportation group released a study Monday, saying that the inadequate condition of Mississippi’s roads costs state taxpayers $1.6 billion annually.

Rocky Moretti, director of policy and research for TRIP, which is funded through various groups involved in transportation issues and highway construction, said at a news conference at the state Capitol that the condition of roads results in lost time, higher maintenance costs for vehicles, wasted fuel and traffic crashes.

“Driving on rough roads costs Mississippi motorists a total of $627 million annually in extra vehicle operating costs,” the study concluded. Plus, “The costs of serious traffic crashes in Mississippi in 2011 in which roadway features were likely a contributing factor was approximately $573 million.”

The TRIP study said 28 percent of Mississippi roads and 22 percent of bridges are in substandard condition.

The study is the latest in a series of efforts to develop new revenue streams to improve the state’s infrastructure.

Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council, attended the news conference, where he cited the 1987 Four-Lane Highway Program that built more than 1,000 miles of highways throughout the state as the best economic generator he had seen.

But many transportation experts now contend the 18.4-cent-per-gallon tax on motor fuel, enacted as part of the 1987 program, is not enough to fund new construction or even to fund maintenance needs.

Wilson said he does not know what the answer is to address the needs, but that in ongoing meetings with business leaders throughout the state, infrastructure and education are cited as the biggest areas of concerns.

“It is time to reach out to the business community in a broad sense,” said Wilson, adding the MEC will undertake a study to determine how Mississippi’s transportation system compares to those of other states in the region.

He said he does not know if the study will be completed before the 2014 legislative session ends in April.

House Transportation Chair Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, said he still is optimistic of passing some type of new revenue for transportation during the 2014 session, though there seems to be little appetite for a tax increase by the state’s political leadership.

Various efforts are under way dealing with the state’s transportation needs. A task force created by the state Senate during the 2013 session will hold three public hearings across the state this month to gather public input and to provide information about transportation needs.

Plus, various people interested in transportation issues have created the T1 Coalition to try to build public support for additional revenue. T1 contends that construction costs for highways have skyrocketed 300 percent since the 18.4-cent per gallon gasoline tax was imposed in 1987 while money generated from the tax has remained essentially unchanged.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com