By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Jim Barksdale, the interim executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, knows from experience the importance of having good transportation infrastructure.
Before becoming president and CEO of Netscape Communications, he was vice president and chief operating officer of FedEx, a company that knows a thing or two about having the right infrastructure in place.
“FedEx generates $19 billion a year to the Memphis economy,” he said Tuesday at the fourth annual Transportation and Economic Symposium at Mississippi State University. The event concludes today.
Barksdale isn’t exactly envisioning another FedEx for Mississippi, but he did say having the right infrastructure is important for economic development and that the state needs to look at the “big picture.”
“Roads are there to create business, serve markets, move people,” he said. “It’s the same for ports, airports and rail.”
David Shaw, vice president for research and development at MSU, said the goal of the symposium is to gather transportation leaders and experts, state and local leaders and academia to “think outside the box” to determine what can be done to not only maintain, but also improve the state’s transportation infrastructure.
The biggest challenge is funding. In a time where every dollar is scrutinized and debated, it’s important that those who control the purse strings understand the need to invest in infrastructure, Shaw said.
The state’s three transportation commissioners and MDOT’s executive director participated in a roundtable discussion to kick off the meeting.
Central District Commissioner Dick Hall said transportation is an economic and quality-of-life issue.
Noting the 1987 state highway four-laning project, Hall said, “Who can argue that the four-laning of Highways 25 and 82 didn’t do wonders for Starkville and Oktibbeha County?”
He said the greatest failure of the 1987 legislation, however, was that it did not provide a funding mechanism to maintain the highways.
With rising costs and the state gasoline tax of 18.4 cents unchanged in 25 years, Hall said it’s impossible for Mississippi to keep its infrastructure in the good and competitive condition it’s in now.