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OTHER VIEWS — Expect big push for highways in 2016 legislative session

The 2016 Mississippi legislative session will likely see a major initiative to pass a substantial highways and bridges maintenance and construction bill, a critical issue that involves not only infrastructure but economic development, which is always linked in some way to transportation.

That issue, among others, will test the mettle of newly elected legislators to take on key state issues and finding or creating revenues to pay for what’s needed.

Transportation is a nationwide issue as well, the reason for intense interest in a proposed $325 billion measure in congressional conference that faces a Nov. 20 deadline for action.

A long-term federal program, adequately funded, would segue with a new and more adequate state revenue effort for highways, bridges and other infrastructure. However, the still-developing Mississippi effort is not linked to federal legislation.

Mississippi Economic Council executive officer Blake Wilson confirmed Monday the private-sector statewide chamber of commerce will release its thoroughly researched recommendations on transportation before the end of November, providing a valuable resource for moving ahead.

Mississippi’s enactment of the 1987 highway program built new, four-lane highways statewide, based on a formula involving vehicle capacity.

Many of the highways in that program already stand in dire need of major maintenance as the wear and tear of traffic eats away roadways.

Mississippi Department of Transportation officials have estimated they need $400 million more a year to stop deterioration.

Mississippi’s gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon hasn’t been raised since 1987. A proposal raising taxes by $600 million in 2013 failed, but the plain fact is additional money must be found and spent to maintain and build.

The MEC study, and its support, could be key to any successful plan. Executive Vice President Scott Waller has said revenue options will be included in the report.

Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, said the state’s infrastructure is not as bad as some people are saying, but the evidence contradicts his claim. He endorsed legislators’ decision this year to issue $200 million in bonds for transportation infrastructure, including bridges.

The Associated Press reported in October some bridges are so battered they have been deemed unsafe for maximum weight loads, which must be rerouted in some areas.

It’s easy politically to say voters won’t stand for additional user taxes, but inaction for maintenance and new construction is fiscally irresponsible and unsafe for drivers of all kinds of vehicles.

Delays in maintenance and new construction only ensure eventually paying higher costs. Construction for new four lanes runs between nearly $4 million per mile and $9 million per mile, depending on location and other factors.

A massive civic effort helped pass the $1.7 billion 1987 program, and a similar effort probably will be required to pass an adequate, essential measure in 2016.

— Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

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