January 19, 2018 10:53:27 AM
In early 2019, the Mississippi Department of Transportation should be finished with a project that will make drivers exiting Highway 82 at Military Road in Columbus a little bit safer.
The heavy volume of traffic at that exit, as it is currently configured, has created 26 collision points, 16 of them prone to T-bone collisions, according to MDOT engineer Mark Holley, the speaker at Thursday's Columbus Exchange Club at Lion Hills.
The remedy will be a $1 million round-about system, which makes the exit much safer.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that drivers will first have to survive driving on Highway 82 before reaching the exit, something that becomes more of a challenge with each passing year.
When a rare spasm of progressive policy convulsed the Mississippi Legislature in 1987, the result was a four-lane highway system that, for the next decade or so at least, was the envy of neighboring states and a key driver in bringing business and industry into the state.
Now, three decades later, that jewel has turned to rhinestone, and a badly damaged one at that.
The Legislature has failed to provide funds to maintain those roads even though the alarm bells have been ringing for years now.
In late 2015, the Mississippi Economic Council, which serves as the state's chamber of commerce, began its urgent plea to the Legislature, presenting a detailed study that showed it would take an estimated $37.5 billion to repair and restore our state highways to good condition.
The MEC recommended the Legislature appropriate $375 million annually over a 10-year period to fund those badly needed repairs, using a variety of sources that included raising the gasoline tax, a lottery and other taxes.
The Legislature simply yawned and passed another gun bill.
Holley's district, which includes Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties, said his budget for road repairs this year is $30 million.
How inadequate is that? Holley said resurfacing Highway 82 would cost $1 million per mile, which means to overlay the Highway 82 from Columbus to Starkville alone would pretty much swallow up his entire budget for the year.
In other words, it ain't happening this year.
"Highway 82 is 13 inches deep," Holley said. "The top four inches are what's holding (the road) together. The rest has deteriorated. If something isn't done in the next three years, we'll have to put up signs to tell people how to get around the potholes."
As alarming as that is, Highway 82 is not exceptional in that regard. MDOT estimates that almost two-thirds of the state's roadways are in poor or mediocre condition.
If we have not reached the point of crisis, we can see it on the horizon.
The Legislature is now in session and there has been talk of addressing the condition of our roads. Of course, the Legislature is very good at talking about things and not so good in doing things. As always, there seems to be little appetite for raising the taxes necessary for addressing this critical problem.
MDOT estimates the condition of the state's roads has meant an estimated $2.25 billion in increased costs to drivers through repairs to damage attributed to the condition of our roads. Our roads are both costly and increasingly dangerous.
The Legislature, in its blind obstinance, refuses to accept its obligation to our safety because it prefers the politically-popular, yet profoundly short-sighted, philosophy of "small government."
There are two months remaining in this year's legislative session, enough time to pass legislation to avert this growing crisis.
The Legislature knows this.
Whether they do anything about it is the central question.
To date, the answer has been no.
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