August 28, 2017 10:12:30 AM
JACKSON -- The Mississippi Department of Transportation is delaying work on several highway expansion projects because of a tight state budget.
Executive director Melinda McGrath told lawmakers Friday that the department is spending money on existing highways rather than new ones.
Among the projects on hold are improvements to a section of Interstate 55 that regularly becomes clogged just north of Jackson and the widening of I-55 in a busy area in Hernando.
Also on hold are highway bypasses at Greenville and Philadelphia; and completion of four-lane highway projects in Oxford and between Ocean Springs and Gautier.
Some lawmakers want to increase gasoline taxes to help pay for roads and bridges. But, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who's one of the top budget writers, wants the transportation department to focus on saving money.
From 2006 to 2016, Mississippi saw an increase of 3,940 lane miles of highways that are considered to be in poor or very poor condition. During the same years, the state saw a decrease of 2,467 lane miles of highways that are considered to be in fair condition or better, according to the Department of Transportation.
"We in Mississippi are blessed with lots of things. What we're not blessed with is necessarily the ideal existing soils to build roads," said James Williams, the department's deputy executive director and chief engineer.
Mississippi has 27,248 miles of two-lane, four-lane and interstate highways, and about one-third of those are now in poor condition. The department says 11,576 of those miles need to be repaired, and the work is being done on 1,616 miles a year at a cost of $225 million.
"I'd say today, our two-lane roads are the ones that are really suffering," Williams said.
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