It’s a sad state of affairs when a Trump administration generally hellbent on deregulation has to press Mississippi to address its horrendous roads-and-bridges infrastructure situation.
Yesterday, Gov. Bryant, citing inaction by local jurisdictions, declared an unprecedented state of emergency and ordered the Department of Transportation to shut down 83 dangerously deteriorated county bridges; more bridges can be added to the list if and when dangerous conditions are discovered.
No doubt the governor is sincere in his concern for public safety, but his formal statement suggests that the primary motivation for the closures is the imminent threat of losing federal transportation funds. Mississippi promised to close the bridges months ago, but county officials dropped the ball. “Keeping [the bridges] open,” said Bryant, “constitutes an unnecessary risk to public safety, violates the corrective action plan agreed upon by the state and federal government, and jeopardizes federal infrastructure funds Mississippi receives.”
Astoundingly, despite broad demands for action from across the political spectrum, the legislature has failed to craft a plan for addressing the increasingly acute issue of road and bridge maintenance. Estimates of funds needed run to the hundreds of millions of dollars. Various funding proposals – including an increase in the gasoline tax, a state lottery, and new borrowing – have been advanced over the past three legislative sessions, but none have gained sufficient support to pass. Meanwhile, state revenues have flagged in the face of large corporate tax cuts.
Bryant may castigate county officials for irresponsibility, but they surely have plenty of company, including state leaders who prioritize tax cuts over public safety.