December 10, 2013 9:50:11 AM
JACKSON -- A national research group said Monday that 28 percent of Mississippi roads are in poor or mediocre condition and 22 percent of bridges in the state need to be repaired, improved or replaced.
"The numbers here in Mississippi add up to trouble," said Frank "Rocky" Moretti, director of policy and research for The Road Information Program, or TRIP, a Washington-based nonprofit group. Its board is largely made up of people in the road-building business.
Moretti spoke Monday to the state House Transportation Committee, which is looking at ways to stretch state dollars to pay for construction and maintenance of highways and bridges.
During the three-month session that starts in January, legislators could propose changes to the state tax of 18 cents a gallon on gasoline and diesel fuel.
The fuel tax was last increased in 1987, when lawmakers enacted a massive program to expand the system of four-lane highways. Since then, road building costs have increased and many drivers are using less fuel because vehicles are more efficient.
The state fuel tax isn't providing enough money to keep up with maintenance and construction, said Max Arinder, director of the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review.
"We've got a disconnect between needs and revenue," Arinder said Monday.
PEER, a legislative watchdog group, is studying the state's transportation system and plans to release a report to lawmakers in January, Arinder said.
Legislators in 2014 will be in the third year of a four-year term. While some have said they oppose any tax increases, others have said they're willing to consider whether the fuel tax should be restructured. Some states have a variable tax rate that is based on the price of gasoline or diesel fuel. Some have a fuel tax rate that varies to keep up with inflation.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, said Monday that considering a change in the fuel tax might be simpler in 2014 than during the 2015 election year.
"Anytime you ask for more money in an election year, it makes it very difficult," Johnson said. "But I will remind you that the '87 Highway Program was passed in an election year."