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Bryant’s budget targets county, city road & bridge repairs

Bridge-rgbGov. Phil Bryant’s proposed fiscal 2016 budget allocates $52 million to counties and cities for road and bridge maintenance, but leaves it to legislators to hash out an allocation for repairs on state roads and bridges.

Bryant’s budget message proposes the $52 million as a follow-up to last year’s $32 million earmark for the Office of State Aid Road Construction. “With such an appropriation, our local roads and bridges will be better maintained and slowly restored,” Bryant said.

The governor’s budget narrative acknowledges that “improvement of our infrastructure is a long-term issue that we must address.”

Legislators are expected to put off a comprehensive solution to the state’s $1 billion-plus backlog of road and bridge needs until the 2016 session. The Mississippi Economic Council’s Transportation Committee has pledged to present lawmakers a thorough review of transportation needs and how to pay for them. The review will take another year, said Sanderson Farms’ CEO Joe Sanderson, chairman of the MEC committee.

Meanwhile, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Willie Simmons plans to pursue a bond issue for emergency repairs of deficient bridges, many of which are in the Delta and used heavily for transporting crops. Legislative leaders appear more attentive to pleas for help this year than in previous years, he said.

“Leadership has a keen and listening ear” going into the 2015 session, Sen. Simmons said.

He said he is encouraged by the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s decision to do emergency shoring up of crumbling bridges along Mississippi highways 6 and 32, though the work that is under way will take two to three years to complete.

Simmons conceded the difficulty of finding tens of millions of dollars for additional bridge work when the state has pressing demands for more spending on health-care, education and corrections.

He also noted, though, that of the $927 million budgeted last year for MDOT, only a small amount went to new construction and maintenance.

Until two years ago, the Legislature would cover transportation maintenance through bonding. “Now we are appropriating annually,” he said.

Mike Tagert, North District MDOT commissioner, said any support he lends Simmons’ plea to bond bridge maintenance would hinge on the money going to cover long-term needs. He doesn’t want to spend bond money for repairs that would need to be repeated before the bond is paid off, he said.

The need for long-term help is obvious, said Tagert, who added the $52 million Bryant is proposing for local assistance “will have zero impact on our state bridge situation.”

While the cities and counties “certainly need some help,” Bryant’s proposal “does not address the bridges that are injuring our commodities harvest,” he said.

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