Locals who participated in the MEC’s Connection Tour stop in Corinth on Thursday agreed that it is a major issue, with 85 percent of them describing Mississippi’s roads as either not acceptably maintained or poorly maintained.
“We have a vital need right now in Mississippi,” said Scott Waller, the state chamber of commerce’s COO. “There are 4,000 bridges at the state and local level that are classified as deficient, that need some type of repair. When you boil that down a little bit further, we have 2,400 that are posted … Posted bridges cannot carry the weight they were designed to. From a business standpoint, that is very problematic, because you have to reroute traffic. From a personal standpoint, school busses are having to be rerouted.”
An MEC task force recommends an infusion of $375 million for improvements to roads at the state and local level. The group has suggested the Legislature consider various options to generate the funds. Waller said it would cost the average driver less than $2 per week but would save more in reduced operating costs for car repairs.
Sixty percent of those at the MEC talk said they would strongly support a reasonable increase in taxes and fees to generate funds to be spent only on roads and bridges. Thirty-one percent said they would somewhat support such a plan.
“The single most relevant and important economic development effort I have seen anywhere was right here in Mississippi with the 1987 AHEAD highway program, which brought a four-lane highway within 30 miles of every Mississippian,” said MEC President Blake Wilson.
He credits the program as a major factor in the location of Nissan, Toyota and other major manufacturers in the state.
Waller said one of the important reasons to tackle roads and bridges now is that the cost will only increase in the future.
Other polling results from the locals present:
• 71 percent said Mississippi is headed in the right direction.
• 55 percent said improving infrastructure is the most important thing for improving and creating a robust economy. Twenty-five percent said improving Mississippi’s image is most important.
• 45 percent described Mississippi’s economy as worse than the economy of surrounding states. Forty-three percent described it as about the same.
• 91 percent said transportation is very important to the state’s economy.