/Tagert Projects to expand highway capacity will end by 2019

Tagert Projects to expand highway capacity will end by 2019

“After 2018, we won’t have any new construction within our state based upon the current projections,” Tagert stated. He noted that rising construction costs, a static funding formula, and the inability of the agency to do anything beyond basic maintenance on the state highways are restricting its ability. Tagert stated that “we will not be in a position to embark on any additional capacity projects” and noted that there are many needs in the area. Tagert spoke at Mississippi Today’s “Coffee and Conversation”. Since 1987, when the state gasoline tax was increased to 18 cents per gallon, the funding structure of the Department of Transportation has not changed. Since then, construction materials have become more expensive, so the agency must purchase much more expensive materials using a budget that is based on income from 30 years ago, said Tagert (Transportation commissioner since 2011). He stated that he was trying to build 2016 roads and bridges using funding at 1987 levels. This is the root of the problem. Although it’s complicated, the problem is in some ways very simple. The price index for all things has increased dramatically over time — three to four hundred per cent in some cases.” Tagert stated that only 15% of the Department of Transportation budget is used on personnel. This is different from other state agencies. The department must reduce its employee costs because of high material costs. Tagert says that the challenge ahead is balancing growing costs with the need to expand. Tagert stated that “we’ve built many new roads for our state,” and that many of them have paid back what they cost exponentially. “If you take a look at the growth of the automobile industry in Mississippi, or the movement and production of steel into Mississippi, it is clear that Mississippi has low fuel costs and a low per-gallon tax. Mississippi’s gasoline tax is 2 cents per gallon lower than those in neighboring states. Tagert stated that maintenance might be the only thing the department can do in the future, given the unwillingness of the legislature to increase taxes. Tagert stated that while we love to build new roads, Tagert explained that it is not possible to maintain the roads and bridges in place. “… (we) are now the Department of Maintenance.” Tagert admitted that the prospects for a gas tax hike may be improving as state legislators have been closely scrutinizing state agency spending. He noted that a one-cent increase would net $22 million per year, which is well below the $350 million needed to address infrastructure issues. Tagert believes there is a growing interest in infrastructure issues among legislators that will eventually lead to legislative action. The Mississippi Economic Council’s major push to spend $375 Million more annually on state highway construction was unsuccessful last year. Lt. Governor. “I believe that there are many differing opinions about how we get to the solution (on repairing roads or bridges).” Tate Reeves stated at the end of the session. Reeves stated that he supported more revenue for highway construction but has not specified where the money might come. Reeves stated that he didn’t believe there was a consensus in the legislative session on how to solve the problem of spending more money on roads or bridges. “To be fair we are going to invest a little more than a billion dollars in roads and bridges this year,” Reeves stated at the end of the legislative session. Some criticize user taxes for being too regressive; theydisproportionately affect low-income citizens. Tagert stated that the overall impact of a comprehensive and well-maintained infrastructure system far outweighs the potential impact on lower income individuals. Everyone benefits from a reliable transportation system. Tagert stated that a long-term investment plan is needed for infrastructure. The national acceptance of the model of the user fee and the fuel tax is a good thing. Even those in the lowest socio-economic class benefit from a good transportation system. It has a tremendous effect on everything.” Tagert pointed out that the framers the U.S. Constitution acknowledged the necessity to ensure that commerce flows easily from one state to the next, regardless of how the transportation system evolves. Tagert stated that the country must have a uniform arterial system. “When this does not happen it has an immediate, exponential effect on the economy.” Tagert added that Tagert stated that: * The Transportation Department is currently looking into the possibility of toll roads in high-traffic areas of the state, such as DeSoto County and the Jackson metropolitan area, and the Gulf Coast. Tagert stated that the state’s highways can handle longer trucks and was not able to accommodate them. * The Transportation Department is concerned about safety on state roads when assessing construction requirements._x000D