The head of Mississippi's Department of Transportation and the three elected members of the commission that oversees it are warning state residents that
lack of funds means the road network is weakening so much that it would now take major projects to repair it.
"Today's underfunding of Mississippi's transportation system is leading to the crumbling of the state's roads and bridges," said a press release with comments from MDOT Executive Director Melinda McGrath and the commissioners. "This is no longer only a road and bridge problem," it said, "but an issue affecting economic development and community growth throughout the state."
McGrath said that "MDOT is utilizing its funding to meet the state-owned transportation system's greatest needs. However, the condition of roads continues to deteriorate faster than the state has the funding to improve them."
She said MDOT has told lawmakers that research indicated "an additional $400 million annually for 10 to 15 years is needed to halt the deterioration and restore the state-owned highway system for Mississippi to remain economically competitive and reduce fatalities."
Meanwhile, "the current level of funding means the state-owned rural highway system will continue to be neglected," McGrath said. "In order to save Mississippi's transportation system, action must be taken today. There has been no significant change in state revenue for roads and bridges since 1987. This has caused many Mississippi highways to crumble past the point of repair, and they now require complete rehabilitation."
The press release said deterioration of the state's highway network is most noticeable along rural routes, where roads and bridges are passable but in poor condition. The longer these rural roads continue to be ignored, the worse the situation will become, MDOT said, and the more money it will cost the taxpayers of Mississippi to fix.
MDOT issued the release in regional versions that included local examples of needed projects and comments from each region's representative on the Transportation Commission. The officials also held regional press conferences about the issue.
The commissioners – Chairman Dick Hall, Mike Tagert and Tom King – said that at the request of legislative leadership MDOT had provided a list of mandated transfers of transportation funding to non-highway programs that total $50 million. They said MDOT could spend it on state-owned rural roads if the agency could keep those funds.
MDOT has also compiled a list of
hundreds of unfunded road and bridge projects needed largely to maintain the existing system, with some for capacity improvements.
"Rising construction costs and aging infrastructure means MDOT will not be able to maintain the current condition of the system or build any new lanes or roadways," said Hall. "Without an increased investment in transportation, the majority of funds will be utilized to repair existing infrastructure and address safety projects while delaying projects that would repair aging infrastructure in rural areas, add capacity to the transportation network and stimulate the state's economy."
"MDOT maintains 30,000 highway miles, and 11,000 miles need to be repaired or replaced," McGrath said. "And, approximately 900 of the 5,700 bridges MDOT maintains need to be reconstructed, because they have restrictions that hinder commercial traffic."
The agency said many of the state's rural bridges are more than 60 years old and were built with timber pilings that weaken or rot with age, which weakens a bridge so that officials reduce the allowable weight on it or must close it to traffic.
It also said that "unfunded projects are a public safety issue. Last year, 677 Mississippians were killed on the state's roadways. As road conditions continue to decline, the safety risk to the traveling public continues to rise."