Report: Highways will face decay

July 12, 2013 10:16:50 AM



JACKSON -- State transportation officials say half of Mississippi's highways will be in poor condition by 2035 if current funding levels continue. 


That analysis by the Mississippi Department of Transportation was presented Wednesday to a task force of lawmakers, business leaders and others created by the state Senate to look at highway needs. 


The analysis shows that $400 million is needed annually to maintain Mississippi highways, but only $150 million was being spent. 


The task force expects to have a report completed for the 2014 Legislature. 


In addition to meetings in Jackson, Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, the task force chairman, tells the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal that the group plans to visit communities around the state in October and November. 


The analysis shows while the need to maintain road grows, the development of more efficient vehicles has impacted Mississippi's motor fuels taxes, which are consumption driven. 


"The motor fuel taxes we have relied upon to fund state programs and state aid projects in the past will not be reliable in the future," the report said. 


Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, suggested Wednesday that modest "shared sacrifices" could garner the funds to meet the bulk of the state's infrastructure needs, including those of local governments, for the foreseeable future. 


Bryan said modest increases in taxes, such as increasing the sales tax from 7 percent to 7.1 percent, the casino gambling tax from 8 percent to 8.1 percent and a similar increase in the income tax, would generate $70 million annually. He said matching those funds with $70 million in state revenue growth would generate $140 million annually that would pay off a $2 billion bond issue. 


"The problem we have is that water and sewer systems all over the state need to be repaired," Bryan said. "We can't just let water and sewer go away, let alone all the roads that need to be maintained. 


"I think this is an opportunity to address all our infrastructure needs and help cities and counties with projects they can't afford at the same time." 


The alternative, Bryan said, is "to start talking about what roads we want to abandon."