The continuing meetings of a special Senate task force assessing Mississippi’s highway and other transportation needs during the next two decades and longer so far exhibits the candor to admit long-term problems only grow worse and more expensive to solve if ignored.
The task force, which is bipartisan, has a report in hand from the Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee about the facts of important issues like paying for infrastructure maintenance and construction.
As described by MDOT Tupelo District Engineer Bill Jamieson earlier this week separately from the Senate task force, Mississippi’s explosion of highway construction after enactment of the 1987 Highway Program is approaching full circle, with imperative maintenance issues due on some of the first arterial roads completed.
The PEER Committee found that $400 million is needed annually to maintain Mississippi highways, but only $150 million is being spent. The same kind of information has been stated repeatedly by transportation commissioners in both parties, MDOT engineers like Jamieson and many legislators, and the most likely solution, more revenue for construction and maintenance, has been stated by many.
However, nothing has persuaded the Senate and House, governors and lieutenant governors to do anything about increasing revenue for specific things. Similar concerns about rural roads were expressed Thursday by Mark Leggett, president of the Mississippi Poultry Association, with worries about rural roads and farm-to-market highways.
Coincidentally but tellingly the Mississippi Economic Council announced Thursday that Gov. Phil Bryant will be the host for a summit on economic development linked to health care in mid-August. Health-care driven economic growth will fall short if Mississippi doesn’t maintain adequate highways to carry people to the needed health care and hospitals. Economic growth generally stands to lose momentum if the post-1987 highway arteries and all other roads aren’t maintained and enhanced.
The task force goes on the road with meetings in October and November to hear from the people.