/Roads bill passed by Senate will ‘cripple’ MDOT, commissioner says

Roads bill passed by Senate will ‘cripple’ MDOT, commissioner says

Senate Bill 3046 also known as the BRIDGE Act was approved Tuesday by the Senate with a vote 36-14. This vote met the bill’s requirement of three-fifths support. Senate leaders claim that the bill will redirect $1 billion in state spending over five years. It would require MDOT to use 95 percent of state funds for existing roads and bridges, and it would prohibit MDOT’s purchase of right-of-way property on its own. This plan would also take $25 million per year from MDOT’s current budget over the next five years, and give the money to a board made up of special-interest and trade groups led by the governor. Under the Monday plan, which was unveiled Monday by Lt. Governor, Mississippi Department of Transportation will lose its spending flexibility and receive less money. Tate Reeves, MDOT executive director Melinda McGrath said Tuesday. She said that her agency wasn’t consulted on the bill, which has 300 pages. Chairman of the Mississippi Transportation Commission Dick Hall said that he was disappointed that the commission did not have any input in the creation of the roads bill. Hall stated Tuesday that “they’re basically taking money.” “They’re taking money,” Hall stated Tuesday. Hall claimed that the department is about $300 million to $400million short each year. The plan proposes to take $25 millions more from the department over the next five-year period. McGrath stated that the proposal has created misconceptions about how the department is run. She said that requiring approval from the governor for transportation projects could slow down the department’s completion rate. The bill requires MDOT to have governor approval before it can purchase rights-of-way. Projects that are approved will be completed in five years. McGrath stated that the process can take four years to complete and we need to be aware of this in order to purchase right-of-way. “Frequently, a governor changes within four years. So now what does that mean for a program?” McGrath stated that almost all right-of-way purchases made by the department in 2017 were for bridge replacements. “It can take four to five year to get that done, starting with environmental concerns and letting it go. Five takeaways from the Senate infrastructure proposal. The Department of Transportation has been a frequent target of legislative leaders over recent years. In October 2016, during a round budget hearings, House Speaker Philip Gunn asked questions about travel expenditures. He also criticised 900 of the 2,300 employees of the transportation agency as being in “office jobs”. Gunn and Reeves repeatedly called for MDOT to increase efficiency in its spending. Reeves stated in June 2017 that any discussion about MDOT’s $7 billion annual spending since my election as lieutenant governor, and how it spends more than $1B annually, should also include an examination of how funds go on the maintenance and construction sides. Senator Joey Fillingane (R-Sumrall), was the main author of Tuesday’s bill. He stated that MDOT only spends $216 million of its $1.1billion budget on roads and bridges. Fillingane stated that there would be no restrictions on the federal and special funds they receive. “We believe it’s fair that 95 per cent go to existing infrastructure.” McGrath stated that between 91 and 93 percent of the department’s funding goes directly to roads or bridges. McGrath said, “I’m referring to the entire budget of $1.1 million. McGrath stated that the bill’s 95% spending requirement is only for the $450m state funds. That’s going to cause problems. This will lead to program cuts and some services or people being caught up in it. Hall stated that this plan would “cripple our ability to operate.” We won’t be able buy any right of way without the permission of the next governor. The governor will decide where highways are going be maintained and built. He is also going to build them where his friends and his political support are. Sen. Hob Bryan (D-Amory), said that the bill was a vindictive attempt at punishing the highway commission. “We aren’t condemning DOT,” stated Sen. Willie Simmons (D-Cleveland), who is the chairman of the Transportation Committee. McGrath disagrees. She said that it looked like the commission was trying to take away their legislative power, without asking the people what their thoughts are._x000D