OUR OPINION: Bridge funding needs to go early in 2013

By NEMS Daily Journal

County supervisors in Northeast Mississippi and the rest of the state want quick legislative action on a request for $20 million in bridge-building funds – either through bonds or an appropriation – to make up for bonds not passed in the 2012 session.
The $20 million had been anticipated to fund the Local System Bridge Program statewide, when Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and bond bill proponents could not reach an accord on how much, if any, bonds to authorize.
The local system bridge program pays for construction of bridges on roads not part of the State Aid Road Program, which is funded by 20 percent of the state’s fuel tax revenue stream.
Derrick Surrette, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, has met with boards of supervisors in Northeast Mississippi and other regions. All of the northeastern counties have local bridge program structures that qualify for funds.
Bridges are rated in three categories: Structurally deficient, obsolete, and posted for weight limits lower than original engineering limits.
The posted bridges require traffic restrictions by weight, including frequent rerouting of school buses for safety reasons. Some bridges are closed, making roads impassable and posing convenience issues for all drivers.
Surrette said the supervisors’ association seeks what’s called a “deficit appropriation” at the beginning of the session to cover the funds not approved in the 2012 session. Then, later in the session, another $20 million would be needed to cover the expenses for the 2013-2014 budget cycle, which starts July 1.
Lee County Board of Supervisors President Phil Morgan, District 2, said Monday that Lee County can use every cent appropriated to it under the local bridge program.
“Our view is that it is a necessity for public safety,” Morgan said.
The loss of continued funding in 2012 places an indefinite hold on bridge construction in many counties, and in the longer view increases expenses because contracting costs continue rising.
The bridge funding, which is a statewide issue, should be dealt with at the front of the session, at least for the $20 million not provided as expected in the bond bill that died in the Legislature’s internal politics.
The better long-term practice might be an annual appropriation, eliminating the uncertainty of bond bills.