A Senate study committee made up lawmakers and citizen representatives will convene June 12-13 in Jackson to look at ways to fund upkeep of the state’s roads and bridges.
Sen. Willie Simmons, a Cleveland Democrat who chairs the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee, will lead the panel. It will continue to meet through the summer and prepare recommendations for legislators to consider in the 2014 session.
Members will include chairs of key Senate committees such as finance and economic development, representatives of state departments and agencies, a representative designated by the Mississippi Economic Council (the state’s Chamber of Commerce), and representatives of industries ranging from agriculture and manufacturing to trucking and petroleum marketing.
The Mississippi Truckers Association does not dispute the need to raise more money for road and bridge maintenance but insists any new assessments “must involve all highway users,” said David Roberts, association president.
“While our membership recognizes that our state’s highway system needs to be maintained, any considerations of a funding increase to maintain Mississippi’s four lane highway system should involve all highway users,” Roberts said in an email statement.
Simmons said he hopes the panel will give special emphasis to deficiencies in the system of road and bridges that move goods to market. “We know that if you have a good transportation system you are more likely to bring industry into the area,” he said.
Failing to put maintenance dollars into the 1987 highway legislation “has caught up with us,” Simmons said.
The panel will spend five months looking at what lawmakers did right in the 1987 legislation, what they did wrong and how to correct any oversights, Simmons said.
Mississippi Department of Transportation commissioners Mike Tagert, Dick Hall and Tom King are glad to see lawmakers are inclined to take a serious look at creating a dedicated source for funding road and bridge maintenance.
King, Southern District commissioner, said addressing maintenance deficiencies and how to pay for them is imperative for both public safety and economic development. “I would hope the business community would take the lead with a funding mechanism, as was done in the 1987 highway program,” King said.
Tagert, Northern District commissioner, said he is encouraged that municipalities and counties are included in the discussion, noting they are struggling to pay for maintaining their roads and bridges.
Tagert said MDOT’s role will be to provide the study committee any data, reports or documents it needs. “I hope the deficient bridge report will be a focus of the committee,” said the commissioner, referring to an August 2012 MDOT report that deemed 221 of the state’s 5,724 bridges structurally deficient.
Another 785 state bridges have been designated functionally obsolete in that their design and structure no longer meet today’s transportation needs.
Of the 221 structurally deficient bridges, 145 of them are in Tagert’s district. The Central District has 49 and the Southern District 27.