McGrath Sees ‘Dire’ Mississippi Funding Outlook; TRIP Highlights Investment Needs

AASHTO Journal, 25 March 2016

As lawmakers consider whether to increase funding for the Mississippi Department of Transportation to put into infrastructure projects, MDOT Executive Director Melinda McGrath says her department faces “dire” investment choices and a national research group estimates state road congestion costs drivers more than $2 billion a year.

The state Senate recently passed a bill that would raise Mississippi’s motor fuel tax, but that measure is reportedly viewed as a “placeholder” that is expected to be overhauled in the House amid efforts by some groups to kill any gas tax hike. That means legislators would need to negotiate an agreement quickly if they are to come up with a final funding plan before the April 24 end of the legislative session.

McGrath.jpg McGrath

Responding to a critique by the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, which in a memo to the governor and lawmakers questioned the need for new funds, McGrath issued a rebuttal early this month.

“For the past four years, MDOT has been fighting to address the maintenance needs of existing roadways while putting almost all new construction on hold. The situation is dire,” she wrote. “The fuel tax has no mechanism to account for inflation and has not been adjusted in almost 30 years (1987). Meanwhile, the cost of road construction has increased over 300 percent.”

Meanwhile, the research group TRIP issued a report March 23 saying: “Roads and bridges that are deficient, congested or lack desirable safety features cost Mississippi motorists a total of $2.25 billion statewide annually,” in higher vehicle operation and repair costs, traffic crashes and congestion-caused delays in getting to their destinations.

Increased levels of investment, TRIP said, “could relieve traffic congestion, improve road, bridge and transit conditions, boost safety, and support long-term economic growth in Mississippi.”

TRIP calculated that road and bridge conditions impose an extra $1,879 in annual costs per driver in the capital area of Jackson, than if the infrastructure was put into significantly better shape.

Scott Waller, executive vice president of the Mississippi Economic Council, which is urging the Legislature to increase transportation funding by $375 million, said the TRIP report “provides additional details regarding the enormous costs Mississippians already face, and the consequences of failing to act. More importantly, it amplifies the safety issues that exist as a result of poor road and bridge conditions and the importance of protecting our citizens.”

McGrath reportedly told lawmakers earlier this year that her department would need $526 million more a year. She said that over the next 10 to 15 years the funding would allow MDOT to replace all posted and deficient bridges, and restore paved surfaces to fair or good condition. Without that investment, she said, the cost of infrastructure repairs will only increase as long as the work is delayed.

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