A recently released analytical report by the Legislature's PEER Committee (Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review) clearly shows that MDOT and the commission veered away from using a statewide prioritization for construction projects mandated in law - until November 2008, when PEER's investigation pushed the commission to follow law and report deviations from priorities on its minutes, with an explanation.
Northeast Mississippians are among the most insistent questioners. Rep. Greg Ward, D-Ripley, a member of PEER and a strong supporter of Vision 21, sought the inquiry. It is posted for public review on the PEER Web site (http://www.peer.state.ms.us/).
Several highest-priority highways in our region - Mississippi 15, 25, 9, 7, 6 and 41 - are clearly identified on the official Vision 21 map as "immediate" priorities.
Legislators interviewed by the Daily Journal don't begrudge any funds diverted for the Hurricane Katrina recovery or obvious major economic developments, but they are unanimous in agreeing that Vision 21 hasn't worked as intended.
The law specifies that $200 million per year go to building Vision 21 roads, and while that is clearly inadequate at today's highway prices, old-style highway commission politics have further diluted the money's effectiveness. PEER found it would take more than 100 years to complete the system. That's unacceptable.
PEER Chairman Harvey Moss, D-Corinth, says the plan was supposed to work like the successful 1987 Highway Program. Mandates were (grudgingly) followed under the '87 plan, and more than 1,000 miles of four-lane roads were built. Northeast Mississippi, which was deficient in safe, adequate highways everywhere, caught up.
Three things must happen to make Vision 21 work:
n Legislators generally must compel MDOT and the commission to follow legislative intent.
n Additional funds must be provided to empower a timely completion of the system.
n Mississippi's business community, which drove the 1987 program's success, must generate equivalent energy in demanding construction of new, economy-growing highway arteries.
Vision 21 is a plan, promise and expectation, but it hasn't become a commitment proven with asphalt, greater safety and economic stimulus.
The Daily Journal will continue its editorial focus on the issue of highway construction until the promise of Vision 21 becomes reality.