Highway cash crunch proves ’embarrassing’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 30, 2000

So close … yet so far. That’s how people in southwest Mississippi –&160;particularly Adams County — view the promised four-laning of U.S. 61 North, among other state highway projects.

We learned this week that the completion of the four-lane project from the Adams County line to Fayette likely won’t take place this year, as expected.

Why? Well, the Mississippi Department of Transportation is strapped for cash. Extremely mild winters for the past two years have allowed crews to work “ahead of schedule” on projects. And, because the state’s highway projects have been primarily “pay-as-you-go” propositions, the lack of cash means work on the projects must stop.

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And that work will stop with the U.S. 61 North four-laning at the top of the project list.

This is an embarrassing situation for the state of Mississippi. Lawmakers, including Sen. Bob M. Dearing of Natchez, are hoping to address the problem in an upcoming special session on economic development issues. But Gov. Ronnie Musgrove won’t say yet if he’ll allow the transportation projects to be addressed in the session.

And, even if the issue is raised, lawmakers most likely will have to agree to float $150 million to $200 million in bonds to give the MDOT the cash it needs to continue working on highway projects — an uphill battle for the transportation commissioners to wage in a tight-fisted Legislature.

Mississippi — and its elected officials — should recognize the critical importance of highways and transportation to economic development. More important, our elected officials must make the commitment to continue this highway improvement projects … even if that means floating bonds.

We’ve waited long enough to get four-lane highways into and out of Adams County. We shouldn’t have to wait any longer.