“We’re Not Just Building Roads, We’re Building the Economy”

It’s no secret to Mississippians that their roads and bridges are crumbling. Between never-ending car repairs and long daily commutes sitting in traffic, everyone in Mississippi is impacted by the issues facing our state’s transportation network. Currently, the state of Mississippi has upwards of 500 bridges closed and 77,445 miles of public roads in poor condition, ranking the state’s infrastructure 45th in the nation by U.S. News and World Report in 2018.

The funding for roads and bridges, as a result of the 2018 special session, certainly helps spot fix problems with roads and bridges around the state. In reality, however, this funding will not cover nearly enough of the extensive costs required to bring Mississippi’s infrastructure up to speed with the rest of the country. Former Transportation Commissioner, Dick Hall emphasized, “We’re not just building roads, we’re building the economy.”

Hall, Transportation Commissioner since 1999 and a legislator in the Mississippi House of Representatives before that, was a crucial vote to override then-Gov. Bill Allain’s veto of the 1987 Roads Bill. This bill provided funding for Mississippi to have the number one highway system in the mid-south and the sixth-best in the entire country. 1987 was an election year and according to Hall, no one in the legislature lost their seat over that vote and he hopes to see the same outcome in 2020.

Hall decided not to run again in 2019 and his replacement, Sen. Willie Simmons, has been vocal about raising the gas tax, as well, but addresses it as a user fee. He highlights how a user fee is a fair solution to Mississippi’s crumbling roads and bridges because whether you drive a delivery truck or you are a tourist visiting the state, you will help contribute a small amount to help fix the roads. The cost of raising the gas tax or the user fee is negligible when compared to the costs drivers pay each year as a result of broken wheels, suspension problems, and flat tires — all of which add up over time. Mississippians spend an average of $820 per year in vehicle operating costs associated with bad roads and bridges.

Referring to an increase in the gas tax, Hall told the Clarion-Ledger, “I think people realize it needs to be done. I’m optimistic that leadership, under Lt. Gov. Hosemann, it will come out in some fashion.” The 1987 Road Bill allowed Mississippi to go from one of the worst highway systems in the country to one of the best. Now, it is time for Mississippi to rise back up and bring its transportation network into the 20th century.