Officials Say Funds for Mississippi Projects Drying Up Under Static Revenue Stream

AASHTO Journal, 18 November 2016

Mississippi transportation officials are warning that under the state’s current revenue stream for infrastructure the Department of Transportation will soon only be able to pay for preservation work on the existing highway system rather than launch new projects to keep up with rising demand.

Mike Tagert, one of three elected members of the Transportation Commission that oversees the DOT, told a Millsaps College audience Oct 31. That “after the year 2018, we will not have any new construction in our state based on the current projections . . . We will not be able to embark on any new capacity projects, and we have plenty of needs in that area.”

capitol0816.jpgTagert said the state DOT’s funding structure had not changed since 1987, the last year in which the state raised its gasoline tax, which is 18 cents a gallon. “We’re trying to essentially build 2016 roads and bridges with 1987 level funding,” Tagert said, according to the Meridian Star newspaper.

The Mississippi DOT confirmed Tagert’s remarks and provided comments from Transportation Commission Chairman Dick Hall, who said: “We don’t have the money to do both maintenance and new capacity projects.”

He added that “we’ve got bridges out there that were designed to be in place for 50 years, and some of them are over 90 years old now. We need over $2 billion to fix the bridges in this state that need fixing.”

Hall said the funding crunch is already interrupting some projects. For instance, the state DOT has $25 million invested in bridge grading and drainage on a new Highway 82 Bypass in Greenville, but does not have the additional $120 million it needs to finish that job.

“Until Congress and the state Legislature take some kind of action,” he said, “you’re going to see the building of highways come to a stop.”

Melinda McGrath, the DOT’s executive director, told the AASHTO Journal: “If we continue to operate under the same level of funding that we’re operating with today then the transportation system you see now will only get worse. As of today, we have over 800 bridges, including 180 posted [for weight restrictions], that need to be replaced.”

McGrath also said that “we do routine maintenance on bridges. But the problem is when any kind of asset reaches 75 or 80 years old, it’s worn out. And, there’s nothing you can do but replace it.”

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