Commissioner says roads need attention

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 3, 2014

It must be human nature to overlook the cost of maintenance when buying something shiny and new, like a house, a car or, in the case of Mississippi legislators, a new highway system.

Southern District Transportation Commissioner Tom King knows this first hand. Elected in 2011, King inherited a network of state highways and bridges that is in sore need of maintenance and upgrades.

“All of our money is going toward maintenance,” King said.

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King came to Natchez Wednesday to deliver an oversized check for $247,500 to help pay for renovations of the old Broadway Street train depot. He also came armed with sobering news about the state’s roads and bridges.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation received no money from the legislature last year leaving the department keep state roads open and safe with funds collected from the state’s 10-cent per gallon tax on gasoline and from miscellaneous fees, King said.

The money is not enough to maintain the state’s highways.

“The 1987 highway program was a great program, but it was all about new construction, King said. “Somebody forgot about maintenance and that is where we are now.”

Where we are now is with roads that sorely need attention and one-third of the state’s bridges considered functionally obsolete, King said.

“We have a lot of bridges out there that are getting Band-Aids,” King said. “Some bridges we are checking once a week, when normally we look at them once or twice a year.”

Even though MDOT receives much of its funds from the federal government it is not enough, King said.

So, how much money does it take to maintain a road?

A review of the projects just completed, shows just how much the state spends on repairs and maintenance.

Emergency repairs to a sinkhole that formed in the turning lane from John R. Junkin Drive to U.S. 61 South cost MDOT $200,000, King said. The 15-foot wide by 25-foot deep sinkhole took several days to repair.

Overlay of Mississippi 555, also known at Martin Luther King Jr. Road north of the city limits, cost $1.5 million, King said.

Rivet replacement on the Mississippi River Bridge cost $557,000.

Nearly $10 million will be spent in 2105 for projects ranging from road repairs on U.S. 61 to the painting of the Mississippi River bridge.

Repairs to the section of U.S. 61 South near the Wilkinson County line that were damaged when the road slid are expected to cost $2.5 million.

Other projects in the works include $3.5 million in repairs to sections of U.S. 61 North and painting of the bridge, which is expected to cost $4 million, King said.

With all of the maintenance projects planned, there is much more that needs to be done in the entire state.

King pointed to Arkansas’ recent successful referendum for which residents voted for a ½-cent increase in grocery taxes that will raise $1.8 billion dollars in the next 10 years for highway projects as one example of how Mississippi might raise revenue for its roads. A similar referendum is something Mississippi might consider, King said.

“You have to maintain what you have and what you built,” King said. “You don’t do that and you will be digging up and going back to dirt. We don’t want to do that.”


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at