Dick Hall: Mississippi’s economic future is tied to its highway system

At a recent luncheon sponsored by the Madison County Business League & Foundation, Highway Commissioner Dick Hall talked about the importance of highways
and transportation to the economic health and future of Mississippi.

“Obviously, if you don’t have a good transportation network, then companies who might come to Mississippi will ask themselves whether they can get their
goods in and out of the state,” he observed. “Unfortunately, on a statewide basis, we’re losing ground every day.”

He pointed out that Mississippi’s ranking in terms of bridge safety has slipped from 14th worst in the nation to 8th worst.

“We need $500 million dollars just to fix the structural issues in our state,” he said.

He attributes much of the problem to the continual funding snafus that have become the rule in the Federal government.

“At one time, the U.S. Highway Trust Fund would project out on a 5-7 year basis,” he said. “Now, we can’t even look ahead 5-6 months. Sometimes, we don’t
know how much we’ll get reimbursed next month, let alone next year.”

As he sees it, the Trust Fund has “been broken since 2008”, and they “keep kicking the can down the road”, pointing out that Congress has done 33 short
term “fixes” in the past 6 years.”

He also said that there is a strong need for a new funding model.

“We’re really not allocating much more funding than we were 15 years ago,” he said. “And when you look at how much costs have increased in that period,
it’s hard to see how we can meet our needs.”

As an example, according to some estimates, the cost of paving a mile of road has increased from $20,000 per mile to approximately $75,000 a mile within
the past 15 years.

Hall lays a significant share of the blame at the feet of the Federal government, pointing out that excessive environmental regulations add significant
cost to road construction.

Despite these challenges, he pointed out that Mississippi has the 8th most efficient Department of Transportation among all states, and he reviewed a substantial
number of highway projects that are in process or complete, such as the addition of lanes on I-55 through portions of Madison County.

“There are other big projects in the work as well,” he said. Among these will be major work on Highland Colony Parkway, and a “big change” for the County
Line Road interchange off of I-55. Anyone who uses that interchange well knows that it’s one of the most congested in the Jackson metropolitan area.

“I’m motivated by economic development,” he said. “And somehow, we’ve all got to get on the same page and recognize that we just can’t have that economic
development without a good transportation system.”

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at alan.turner@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1021.

From the Mississippi Business Journal, April 29th 2015