By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – The path may be clearing for legislative action on toll roads.
George Smith, legislative liaison for the Mississippi Department of Transportation, said at a hearing Wednesday that his agency was not asking the Legislature to provide it toll-road authority, but “it could be a tool” for the department.
The House Transportation Committee, chaired by Rep. Bill Miles, D-Fulton, heard testimony at the Capitol from MDOT officials and others about toll roads. Bills to allow toll roads to be built are introduced most years in the Legislature.
In 2004, Miles' first year as chairman of the transportation panel, legislation to allow toll roads passed the House and Senate in differing forms. But the bill died when the required three-fifths majority could not be garnered in the House to approve the compromise by House and Senate negotiators.
Miles said he will support legislation on toll roads to be introduced during the 2007 session.
Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, a panel member, questioned the need, saying a better alternative is for local governments to ban together with state and federal dollars to build roads through bond issues.
Everyone involved in the meeting agreed toll roads should be built only as alternatives to existing roadways – to eliminate congestion on crowded highways.
Smith said most states allow toll roads. Usually, they are built by private businesses and in most cases turned over to the state after they are paid for by the toll.
Gov. Haley Barbour said he could support toll roads as an alternative to ease congestion.
“We shouldn't ever get in a position where toll roads are the only alternative for people,” he noted.
Toll roads have been advocated primarily in the Jackson metro area and on the Coast.
Contact Daily Journal Jackson Bureau reporter Bobby Harrison (601) 353-3119 or BHarri9015@aol.com