"Highways are critical to state’s economic development" – Phil Hardwick


When it comes to recruiting major economic development projects, highway accessibility is critical. Mississippi is moving up a national ranking, according
to a just-released survey of state highway program effectiveness.

Historically, highway accessibility has held the first or second spot in the rankings of Area Development magazine’s Annual Corporate Survey of site selection
factors. In the most recent survey, that was no exception. Indeed, 92.4% of the 100 corporate executives responding to the annual survey listed the
factor as “very important” or “important.” That percentage is up from 87.2% in the 2018 survey.

According to the magazine’s article, more than half of those executives are with manufacturing firms and are the top-level executive at their firms, i.e.,
chairman, president or CEO, or owner, and nearly 60 percent are responsible for their companies’ final site location decision.

The Reason Foundation recently published its 25th Annual Highway Report ranking state highway performance and cost-effectiveness. Mississippi came in at
8th. The study calculates the effectiveness and performance of each state in 12 different categories, including traffic fatalities, congestion, pavement
condition, bridge condition, highway maintenance costs, and administrative costs.

What is especially impressive is that Mississippi upped its ranking from the previous report in which it was ranked 25th overall. The category with the
most dramatic improvement was in its urban Interstate pavement condition. What makes this improvement even more impressive was that Mississippi ranked
38th overall in Reason Foundation’s 17th Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems.

Mississippi’s best rankings are total disbursements per mile (2nd) and maintenance disbursements per mile (3rd). It ranked 8th in capital and bridge costs
per mile.

Mississippi’s worst rankings are in overall fatality rate (49th), rural fatality rate (42nd), and urban fatality rate (42nd). In safety and performance
categories, Mississippi ranks 49th in overall fatality rate, 37th in structurally deficient bridges, 9th in traffic congestion, 23rd in urban Interstate
pavement condition, and 31st in rural Interstate pavement condition.

“To improve in the rankings, Mississippi needs to decrease its fatality rate. Mississippi is in the bottom 10 states for each fatality measure (overall,
rural, and urban). Compared to nearby states, the report finds Mississippi’s overall highway performance is better than Arkansas (ranks 9th) and Texas
(ranks 18th), but worse than Tennessee (ranks 7th),” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director
of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “Mississippi is doing better than some comparable states like Louisiana (ranks 31st) and Alabama (ranks

”Here are some other snippets from the report:

North Dakota, Missouri, and Kansas have the nation’s best state-owned road systems. In terms of return on investment, New Jersey, Alaska, Delaware, and
Massachusetts have the worst-performing state highway systems.

New Jersey, Massachusetts, Alaska, Delaware, and Maryland had the highest costs most per-mile.

The condition of the nation’s bridges improved slightly in 2019. Of the 613,517 highway bridges reported, 46,771 (7.6 percent) were rated deficient. The
best rankings go to three states where less than two percent of their bridges are structurally deficient: Texas, Nevada, and Arizona. Meanwhile, Rhode
Island reported a whopping 23 percent of its bridges as structurally deficient.

The complete report can be found online at https://reason.org/topics/transportation/annual-highway-report/.

Meanwhile, it is informative to take a look at high employment counties in Mississippi and the relationship to highways. According to data on the Mississippi
Department of Security website, the five highest employment counties as of October 2020 were:


Hinds 101,700

DeSoto 87,830

Harrison 82,950

Rankin 73,330

Jackson 56,620

Total Employed 402,430

Mississippi’s total employment was 1,199,500, meaning that one-third (33.5%) of the state’s total employment was in those five counties. Every one of those
five counties has at least one interstate highway and another four-lane highway.

The importance of highways to economic development cannot be overstated. It appears that Mississippi is in the right lane (pun intended). 

**This article was reprinted from the Mississippi Business Journal.