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Miss. road builders keep up push for state money

 

Jeff Amy/The Associated Press

 

JACKSON -- Mississippi builders are exploring new routes to garner support for more road and bridge work money, with a trade association releasing a study Tuesday that says such construction helps the state's economy. 

 

The study by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association Transportation Development Foundation finds that $1.4 billion in yearly highway and bridge construction supports a total of $3.1 billion in economic activity statewide. 

 

Alison Black, an economist for the group, told the Mississippi Road Builders Association Tuesday that pointing out the economic ripples has been a persuasive money-raising tool in other states. 

 

"We've had a lot of success using these studies at the state level to build coalitions," she said. 

 

Backers of spending more on Mississippi roads have also formed a group called the T1 Coalition, hiring the Butler Snow law firm and former lawmaker Charlie Williams to coordinate a push for more funding in the upcoming Legislature. 

 

Highway officials say the state needs hundreds of millions of dollars a year to repair existing roads and bridges and build new ones, in part because the roads built in the 1987 four-lane highway program are now wearing out. 

 

In August, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, proposed as much as $700 million a year in new taxes. His proposals were criticized by some business groups and lawmakers who oppose more taxes. 

 

Williams said his group may unveil a program with a series of tiered proposals ranging from less to more expensive. 

 

"Between $200 million and $400 million, I think there's a number in there that would get the job done," Williams said. 

 

He said the group is examining as many as 100 different options for raising revenue. 

 

Right now, T1 is being included as part of a Mississippi Economic Council statewide tour meant to gauge public sentiment on issues. MEC President Blake Wilson said the state chamber of commerce isn't endorsing T1's push, though. He said MEC plans to commission a study of road problems in 2014 and with results due in 2015. 

 

The T1 group, though, wants lawmakers to act in 2014. 

 

"We don't want to get out here in October and November and make a big show and get blown out of the water," said Williams, who was a House member from 1976 to 1999 before serving as Haley Barbour's chief of staff from 2004 to 2007. "We want to peak in January and February."

 

 

 

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