In the first part of our Rebuilding Mississippi series, 12 News investigates the state of Mississippi infrastructure and solutions for the crumbling roads and bridges.
12 News’ Melanie Christopher spoke to Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) Executive Director Melinda McGrath, who says the first challenge for fixing Mississippi’s roads is to address the 157,000 lane miles of highways.
McGrath says out of that 157,000 miles, only 29,000 are owned and maintained by MDOT. So the biggest issue they have is making sure all the highways are safely paved for drivers.
McGrath says “…At any given point, 80 percent of our Interstates are in fairly good condition, if not really good, because there is so much traffic. They are driving so fast that it is truly our biggest safety concern is the Interstate system.”
Outside of that, McGrath says the focus starts with the interstates, then goes to four-lane highways, then two-lane highways.
McGrath says that she hopes that a part of the 37 million dollars approved by the state legislature in last year’s special legislative session, plus other forms of money (lottery revenue, gaming money, etc…), can help MDOT fix projects that have been delayed for years.
On the other side of the problem, former State Senator and Central District Transportation Commissioner-elect Willie Simmons, says with over 400 county and municipal bridges closed, he hopes the conversation will start for a user fee at the gas pumps.
Simmons says: “Something has to be done, and for those who say we pay enough already, I would agree with you. But you are paying for it at the wrong place. You don’t pay enough at the pump so you have deteriorating roads and bridges.”
Above all, both Simmons and McGrath agree that something needs to done sooner rather than later and that getting the money needed is the first step in making Mississippi’s roads some of the best in the country.