Lt. Governor Tate Reeves implied in a comment to media that the recent timing of MDOT and the Federal Highway Administration closure of more than 100 bridges is suspect.
The chairman of the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee, Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, warned that the newly designated status of the more than 3,000 bridges could cause punitive action from the federal government. He indicated that other lawmakers could expect to get more pressure over the weekend about the closures.
“If we don’t take care of those bridges they could look at adjusting our federal funding,” Simmons said.
Reeves responded to the news: “Thank you, Sen. Simmons. Random timing, I’m sure.”
The push is on by the Mississippi Economic Council to raise taxes and fund what they and the road builders community they represent suddenly deemed a $400 million dollar per year necessity only two years ago. Meanwhile, MDOT spent millions in late 2016 on pay raises for state employees, and continues to spend money on conferences and promotional messaging.
A few bills were considered as a means to raise the funds earlier in the current legislative session, one was an increase in the per gallon gas tax assessed by the state, another was a change in law to allow the state to collect sales taxes on internet purchases from out of state businesses. Both attempts failed to gain support necessary for passage in the ongoing session.
State Aid Engineer Carey Webb with the Office of State Aid Road Construction said his department is working to compile a list of the closures — all on local roads — and did not have an immediate figure for how many locations had been shut off. The office serves as the administrative agency for counties and informs them of which bridges have to be closed.
Webb said two teams went out with federal officials to inspect bridges with a substructure rating of two (bridges are rated on a scale of zero to nine), some of which were closed on the spot. Webb said his department would update the Legislature about the closures sometime [this] week.
What do you think? Is the timing of this announcement a maneuver to create the perception of a crisis? Vote in our latest #PEPPoll.