Willie Simmons (left) and Brad White (right)
Transportation Commission Chairman Willie Simmons and MDOT Executive Director Brad White say it’s time to transform the department’s antiquated funding model into one that is more sufficient and diversified.
It wasn’t too long ago that U.S. Highway 49 through Central Mississippi was regarded as a traffic “nightmare”. Today, the same is often said about I-55 in Desoto County, I-20 in Warren County, and sections of I-10 along the Gulf Coast. The traffic volumes in these areas, and many others around the state, have increased beyond what the current roadways can efficiently handle. And yet, it is the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s (MDOT’s) goal to build a system prepared to handle traffic projections looking twenty years into the future. So, what happened?
Over a decade ago, insufficient resources forced the Transportation Commission to place a moratorium on major construction projects within MDOT’s Capacity Program so that all available funds could be devoted to the maintenance of Mississippi’s existing highway and bridge system. This decision, while necessary to address the increasing deficit within MDOT’s Maintenance and Paving Programs, stopped nearly all efforts aimed at the continual development of this same system experiencing increasing traffic volumes.
As a result of additional federal dollars made available through the recent reauthorization of the Federal Aid Highway Program, MDOT’s Capacity Program was revived in 2021 and plans for major construction projects were resurrected. The Mississippi Legislature stepped up with one time money to fund those projects closest to being ready for award. However, if modernizations are not made to the state’s highway and bridge funding model, this progress will be short-lived.
For decades, a diversion from the state’s fuel tax collections has been used to provide a steady, reliable stream of revenue for the planning, construction, and maintenance of our transportation network. This revenue stream has not been increased in nearly forty years. And, while more money is needed, we believe a more diversified approach is required.
By creating additional diversions from unobligated portions of revenue streams such as the use tax and gaming revenue, significant funds currently going into the State’s General Fund can be joined with the current fuel tax diversion funds to better provide for both the maintenance and further development of our transportation system. This approach can help decrease our current deficit of funding without raising anyone’s taxes.
It has been our goal to earn legislative confidence through transparency and accountability. To that end, we have funds that reside with the Department of Finance and Administration in which these additional moneys may be placed, guaranteeing that 100% of the new money dedicated to highway and bridge projects would indeed, by force of law, only be drawn down for work performed on such projects. In short, all the money would go directly to construction and maintenance projects.
By transforming MDOT’s antiquated funding model into one that is both more sufficient and diversified, we will be better equipped to address our state’s needs. There is no other need more pressing to this core function of government.
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